Sun Sep 10, 2017 04:51AM
Iraqi Kurds take part in a rally to call for the deferment of an independence referendum, in the city of Sulaymaniyah on September 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Iraqi Kurds take part in a rally to call for the deferment of an independence referendum, in the city of Sulaymaniyah on September 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Members of the “No for Now” campaign, which calls for the postponement of the upcoming referendum on the independence of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, say they have repeatedly received death threats and been physically intimidated.

The movement was founded by Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir, a Kurdish businessman and the owner of a media conglomerate which includes NRT TV, in the city of Sulaymaniyah in August.

Earlier this month, gunmen stormed the NRT TV office in the Kurdish capital city of Arbil, climbed onto the roof of the building, tore down the channel's logo and chanted slogans such as "Yes for referendum.”

The assailants further raised the flag of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and threatened to burn the building down.

"The threats are still there and constant," Qadir told the Middle East Eye news portal, adding, "Me and my friends at the No For Now campaign are facing threats everyday.”

"One of our campaign board members was kidnapped in Sulaymaniyah. Security forces raided the house of another member. The KRG has used the legal system as well to shut down NRT TV, especially local broadcasting, for one week,” he noted.

The Kurdish referendum is scheduled for September 25, but the central government in Baghdad is opposed to the vote.

Barzani supporters celebrate the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil on September 8, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Regional players like Iran and Turkey have also voiced concerns about the planned referendum by Iraqi Kurdish authorities, arguing that it could create further instability in the region.

Qadir voiced alarm that the plebiscite is less about the Kurdish independence and more about an attempt by KRG president Masoud Barzani to maintain his power ahead of parliamentary elections.

"The current ruling elite have been there for the last 26 years  … They want to use the referendum to remain in power another 25 years and hand over power to their families,” he said.

Additionally, No for Now spokesman Rabun Maruf warned that the referendum “does not serve the fundamental interests of the people of the Kurdistan region" and will spark “a bloody military conflict and towards disaster."

"This referendum is not a move towards the independence and the formation of a democratic and upright country, but is instead a dangerous and historic mistake that will result in the abortion of this aim and which will lead towards further division,” he pointed out.

Protest against referendum in Sulaymaniyah

On Saturday, hundreds of supporters of “No for Now” campaign staged a rally in Sulaymaniyah against the September vote.

Qadir told the crowd that the referendum was meant to distract people from real problems in Kurdistan, such as the ongoing financial crisis and shortage of basic services.

He urged the Kurds not to believe the Kurdish leadership’s “lies” that the goal of the September vote was to establish an independent state.