THE UK DELEGATION OF 18 was organised by the League of Kurdish nations. I was part of that team along with political analysts, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt and other political activists. The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan and many others globally also supplied teams of people to monitor the referendum. This would usually be the UN’s responsibility but the legal status of this referendum was in question. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) therefore sought appropriate volunteers.
This was necessary to ensure the vote could be authenticated as free and fair. It may not have been legal, as it was not sanctioned by Iraq - no surprise there -but it was certainly democratic and representative.
In every way possible this referendum was run in a transparent and professional way. Monitors had unfettered access across all areas. The KRG facilitated our mission on polling day and also provided unbridled access to a wide range of commentators from across the political and cultural spectrum.
My own team observed six polling stations in the Dohuk region and monitored the close of the vote and the beginning of the count on 25th September. We observed three polling stations for internally displaced persons, of whom there are 240,000. These stations were overwhelmed, sometimes with a five hour wait. However everyone who went to vote did vote.
The result was staggering - a turnout of 93% with a 72% Yes vote. The KRG have a huge mandate for their claim for autonomous rule. In Kurdistan, as in Catalonia, the response is harshly authoritarian - utterly at odds with the expressed will of the people. Iraq immediately took steps to close down Kurdish airports. The Iranians upped their military presence with increased military drills on the borders. Turkey's leader Erdogan threatened to starve the Kurds into submission. In the face of peace-loving people exercising democracy, these are tactics which will not work and which the international community must condemn.
In another hostile move, the Iraqi government rejected a KRG offer to discuss independence. It demanded Kurdish leaders cancel the result of the referendum or face continued sanctions, international isolation and military intervention.
Democracy is threatened when the explicit view of people is ignored. There must now be international support to allow the KRG to move forward to form a fully autonomous state.