The leaders of Iraq’s Kurdistan region are suffering considerable consequences for their reckless staging of a referendum on independence late last month. The Iraqi government has teamed up with Turkey and Iran to impose tough sanctions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once a Kurdistan ally, is threatening to shut down an oil pipeline that provides the region with much of its revenue. Meanwhile, the United States, long the Kurds’ most important ally, has done little to stanch the growing backlash.

There is a strong case for self-determination by the Kurds, a distinct nation that suffered genocide at the hands of Saddam Hussein and a long history of discrimination in Turkey, Iran and Syria. For a dozen years, post-Saddam Iraqi governments have disregarded legal obligations to Kurdistan, including the distribution of oil revenues. But Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani has given even Kurdistan’s supporters reason for opposition.

The referendum was staged largely for political reasons. Barzani, whose elected term expired four years ago, was seeking a way to revive his domestic support. Though a new legislature is supposed to be elected Nov. 1, the presidential election – and Barzani’s long-promised departure from office – has been thrown into doubt by a mysterious absence of candidates.

The U.S. still depends on Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic State in tandem with the Iraqi army and Shiite militias backed by Iran. Robust U.S. intervention is now necessary to broker truces between Kurdistan and Baghdad, as well as Ankara. The Kurds should be pressed to forswear any further steps toward independence in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Barzani, meanwhile, should allow his would-be country to return to democracy and the rule of law – without which it has no chance of succeeding.

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