Top Developments in the lives of the Iraqi Kurds: Why it MattersThe fight against ISIS and the turbulence in the Middle East has adversely impacted Iraqi Kurds recently. The poverty rate in Iraqi Kurdistan has quadrupled to 15 percent, largely due to the fight against ISIS, civilian casualties, the influx of refugees and insuperable pressure on resources. One in 10 Iraqi Kurds live below the internationally recognized poverty line.

Since 2014, over a million refugees have arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2015, the World Bank estimated that the Kurdistan Region needs $1.4 billion in humanitarian response. The number of internally displaced persons to the region continues to increase.

The Kurds are an important ethnic group in the Middle East, often recognized for their efforts to achieve self-governance. Iraqi Kurdistan is a rather controversial oil-rich region, with especially large reserves in the province of Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been the ruling body of Iraqi Kurdistan since 1992. In 2005, the Iraqi Constitution officially recognized the autonomy of the Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have played a pivotal role in the combat against ISIS. The Iraqi Kurdish forces are a vital part of the U.S. coalition against the Islamic State. Despite accounting for close to 20 percent of the population in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds have suffered a slew of human rights violations over the years and have been oppressed due to their “minority” status. In most recent years, these attacks can be traced back to the time of Saddam Hussein and the Gulf War.

Moreover, the KRG faces many obstacles in its path to win a pending referendum and mend the infrastructure and administration in the country. The economy, resources and commerce of the region is in a poor state. The government is facing problems in financing the incomes of the people in many conclaves, as individuals are only receiving about half of their monthly salaries. The KRG is also working on improving the transparency and accountability of state financial institutions and businesses in the region to regulate the channeling of public funds.

Even though unemployment has peaked at more than 13.5 percent due to labor immobility and the lack of labor market reforms, the World Bank is still spearheading reform plans for the future. The Iraqi Kurds face a rather uncertain future ahead of them, given the clamorous events of the past and present. Self- determination has been an unavailing right for many. In a landmark move, a referendum is being called for Kurdish independence from Iraq.

However, the referendum is being eyed with a great degree of skepticism from the U.N., Iran, Turkey, Iraq and the United States. Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi is demanding a suspension to the referendum scheduled to be held on September 25, given the precarious position the region is currently in. Many are reminded of the Arab-Israeli conflicts that still impact many countries in the Middle East.

Many leaders have expressed that the referendum vote could potentially destabilize the region further, threaten Kurdish minorities and negatively affect the campaign against ISIS. Russia remains a strong ally of the Iraqi Kurds and is a major contributor to Kurdish oil and gas revenue. This will help bolster the region’s economic potential. Israel also remains another country pledging their support for the vote.

Furthermore, supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ right to establishing a sovereign state could also create safe zones and conclaves. This could effectually deal with the refugee crisis plaguing Iraq currently and help offer a more sustainable solution to the problem in the long run.

Contrary to what many entities believe, the vote could prove to be successful in ushering more progress and development, both socially and economically. It can also pave the way for improved relations in the region and put an end to the suppression of Kurds in many landlocked regions in the Middle East and finally liberate an important minority group.

-Shivani Ekkanath

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