A day after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that they are scheduling a referendum on secession for September 25, the US State Department has issued a statement expressing “concern” about the vote, saying that there are “more urgent priorities” in Iraq than the Independence of the Kurdish people.
In particular, State Department officials complained that the independence vote risked being “a distraction” from the ongoing war against ISIS, though US and Iraqi officials have given all indications that they expect the ISIS war within Iraq to be long over by late September.
The more direct answer is that the US has long opposed Kurdish secessionist ambitions, and the State Department today reiterated their support for a “unified” Iraq, though they did make the rare concession that they believe the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have “legitimate aspirations.”
Voting will cover not only the part of Iraq which is legally part of Iraqi Kurdistan, the provinces of Dohuk, Arbil, and al-Sulaimaniyah, but also all territory captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga during the ISIS war, including oil rich Kirkuk and a lot of the northern portion of the Ninebeh Province.
This loss of territory would be painful to Iraq’s government, or rather the loss of oil revenue that it represents. It is therefore expected that the central government will oppose such a move, and may physically try to stop secession. The US clearly opposes Kurdish secession, but having heavily armed the Peshmerga for the ISIS war may have given them the equipment necessary to successfully split away without being reconquered by the central government’s forces.