In September the Kurdish people held a peaceful vote on independence and the result was an overwhelming majority in favour of creating a new nation-state. The final vote was 92.7 in favour of secession and 7.3% opposed. The independence vote was not legally permitted by the Iraqi government but due to the country’s current security situation Baghdad was unable to prevent the vote from taking place. Since this vote an economic blockade has been imposed by Iran and Turkey and flights into Kurdistan have been diverted to other parts of Iraq. Amid these tensions the government in Erbil has said that they are seeking to negotiate with Baghdad about Kurdistan’s future, and they have reiterated this stance in the face of continued pressure.
On 1st October the people of Catalonia will go to the polls to vote on whether or not the autonomous community should secede from Spain. There have been many challenges to this process, chief among which is that it isn’t actually legal, but the Catalan government are treating it as politically binding despite the protestations of Madrid. There has been much talk about the political divisions between both the Catalan and Spanish governments, and Mariano Rajoy and Catalan politicians in a personal capacity. However there is an important aspect of this issue that has not been considered.
Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region in the north-east of the country and has a somewhat fractured relationship with the government in Baghdad. Relations between the two authorities is much better than under Saddam Hussein, although this is a very low bar, but there remains a perception in Erbil that the Iraqi central government is both corrupt and incompetent. It is this perception that last week resulted in leading politicians announcing that the region would hold a referendum on independence from Iraq. This development is something that I have long argued for and could be a game-changer for the Middle East.
From 1967 to 1970 the south-eastern corner of Nigeria seceded and formed its own nation-state called Biafra. This state was largely unrecognised and in 1970 the breakaway state was reincorporated into Nigeria after an incredibly violent civil war that killed between 45,000 and 75,000 people. Since the region was recaptured by the Nigerian army, secessionist feelings have remained strong and there are often protests demanding a referendum on independence or for political leaders to secede unilaterally.
The Spanish Constitutional Court in Madrid has overturned Catalonia’s ban on bullfighting. The vote was an 8-3 decision. The justices argued that the autonomous community cannot outlaw the practice because it was “enshrined in the cultural patrimony of the Spanish state”. Unsurprisingly the decision was met with anger from animal rights activists and Catalan secessionists, both of whom have vowed to fight this decision by appealing to the European court system. If this issue remains unresolved it is likely that bullfighting could be weaponised to promote the secessionist cause.
The Middle East is one complicated place. Pretty much any statement about the geopolitical situation of the region has to have an asterisk by it to account for exceptions and anomalies. Take the example of ISIS. The West is fighting ISIS along with Russia, Iran, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban just to name a few. This puts the West in a difficult position. For example it is very difficult for the US to criticise the Russians for supporting Bashir al-Assad when all three are fighting against the same enemy. Continue reading →