Iraq Takes Similar Approach to Separatist Challenge as Spain

Both governments try to stop independence referendums by legal means. Neither appears to be succeeding.

The Al-Rahman mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, October 23, 2003
The Al-Rahman mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, October 23, 2003 (James Gordon)

Like Spain’s, the central government of Iraq is determined to prevent an independence vote for its largest majority. But like the Catalans, the Kurds are determined to vote anyway.

Iraq’s parliament voted on Tuesday to stop a referendum in its Kurdish region and instructed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to preserve national unity.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to prevent a referendum on secession in Catalonia. At his government’s request, Spain’s Constitutional Court has suspended the Catalan referendum law.

Catalan regional authorities are pressing ahead. So is the Kurdistan Regional Government, which controls the northern part of Iraq.

There are more similarities:

  • Both the Catalans and Iraq’s Kurds have tried to negotiate for more autonomy from their capitals but been rebuffed time and again.
  • Both have been denied official independence referendums, but both are determined to vote.
  • Both the Catalans and the Kurds considers themselves a nation.
  • Both are economic success stories. Catalonia has only 16 percent of Spain’s population but accounts for a fifth of its economic output. Iraqi Kurdistan has the country’s lowest poverty rate and, thanks to abundant oil reserves, is increasingly self-reliant.

But there is one big difference

Other than those of geography and security, the difference is that a majority of Catalans actually oppose leaving Spain whereas the vast majority of Kurds do want their own state.