The incident came three days after Hadi Ameri, the head of the Badr Brigade — an important component of the PMU — warned that Iraq will stay united and if the Kurdistan referendum went ahead it could create a civil war in the country. In a direct challenge to the Kurds, on Sept. 12 and 13 respectively, Diyala and Salahuddin provincial councils canceled the plans to hold the referendum in disputed areas within their provincial boundaries.
Meanwhile, the de facto president of the Kurdistan region and the man behind the referendum push, Massoud Barzani, said on Sept. 13 in a speech in the city of Akre near Erbil that no alternatives have been presented for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to reconsider its decision to hold the referendum later this month. “We want to extend the hand of brotherhood to all sides, but if any side wants to fight us, they can try it,” Barzani warned while standing underneath a sign that read “Yes to the State of Kurdistan, 25/9/2017.”
While both Iran and the United States object to the referendum, their reasoning appears to be different. Washington is worried that the plebiscite will weaken the position of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ahead of the April 2018 general elections. The logic of the United States is that any loss for Abadi will be a gain for Iran and its supporters — including the PMU. Tehran, on the other hand, is worried that the referendum is an American and Israeli ploy to create further instability in the region and endanger Iran’s security by influencing its 8-million strong Kurdish population.
Given how much Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have invested in the referendum, it appears that the only option available to the United States and Iran to convince the Kurdish president to postpone the plebiscite while saving face is through an internal Kurdish agreement. McGurk hinted at this during his meeting with the Gorran officials, saying that the referendum should be postponed through the KRG parliament.