On Monday, November 20, Iraq's Supreme Federal Court ruled that the Kurdish independence referendum, held in September, was unconstitutional, and thus void. The ruling is likely to strengthen the position of Iraq's federal government in negotiations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KRG did not immediately issue a formal response to the ruling, but called for mediated talks with the central government.
Protests against the ruling, and consequent transportation disruptions, are possible in the coming days, particularly in Erbil.
The KRG officially governs three provinces (Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah), the security of which is entrusted to the Peshmerga security force which is independent from the Iraqi government. The region held a referendum for independence on September 25 - deemed unconstitutional by Baghdad - in which the "yes" vote for independence won with 92 percent of votes cast.
The situation remains tense, as the KRG offered to "freeze" the results of the referendum to engage with the central government in negotiations on October 25. However, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected the offer on October 26, demanding that Kurdish leaders annul the referendum results and adhere to the Iraqi constitution. However, despite the failed talks, there remains significant international pressure to resolve the conflict diplomatically.
Individuals in Iraqi Kurdistan are advised to monitor the situation, avoid any large public gatherings, and remain alert.
The security environment in Iraq remains complex. Although travel is possible (with proper security provisions in place) in some areas, other areas should be considered strictly off-limits. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to all travel. While Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively far from the front lines of the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) and has generally been more secure than the rest of the country, the risk of intra-Kurdish clashes suggests additional caution should be adopted for the foreseeable future.