Referendum puts U.S. at odds with old ally in the Middle East

Relations between the United States and the Iraqi Kurds, strong allies over decades of intermittent war, are on a collision course that weeks of strenuous U.S. efforts have failed to prevent.

On Monday, Iraq’s Kurdistan region plans to hold an independence vote that the Trump administration says has already undermined the fight against the Islamic State, threatens next spring’s hoped-for reelection of the current Iraqi government and may ultimately destroy the self-sufficient Kurdish region itself.

The rare U.S. inability to sway the Kurds — despite promises of more aid and the quick convening of U.S.- and U.N.-sponsored negotiations with Baghdad over long-standing Kurdish grievances — is a reminder that American influence over even its closest partners in the Middle East has always been limited.

After last-ditch talks in recent days ended in apparent failure, the Kurdistan Regional Government of President Masoud Barzani said it would consider postponing the vote if Washington and Baghdad would guarantee to recognize results of a referendum to be held if one year of negotiations failed. Both capitals consider that proposal unacceptable.

While the upcoming vote is nonbinding, its statement of intent could trigger cataclysmic results, according to U.S. and foreign officials.

“If this referendum is conducted” as scheduled, the State Department said in a stark public statement Wednesday, “it is highly unlikely that there will be negotiations with Baghdad, and the . . . international offer of support for negotiations will be foreclosed.”

“The costs of proceeding” with the vote, it said, “are high,” including jeopardizing Iraqi Kurdistan’s trade relations “and international assistance of all kinds, even though none of Iraq’s partners wish this to be the case.”

“This is simply the reality of this very serious situation,” the statement said.

Some Kurds have called the…

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