US Special Envoy: Kurdish Referendum Could Undermine Fight Against IS

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Kurdish lawmakers on Friday voted to plow ahead with an independence referendum on September 25, in a move foreign observers fear will ignite conflict with the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has advised his Iraqi Kurdish counterpart Massoud Barzani to back off from plans to host a referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence.

Kirkuk - a province contested by Baghdad and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and home to diverse communities, including Arabs and Turkmen - decided at the end of August to take part in the controversial referendum.

Iraq's Kurdish region plans to hold a referendum on support for independence from Iraq on September 25 in three governorates that make up their autonomous region, and in disputed areas like Kirkuk that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad.

"We refuse to accept the Iraqi parliament's decision, which was unlawful", Muna Qahwachi, a Turkman lawmaker, told Reuters.

The Baghdad parliament's decision earlier this week to oppose the referendum drew condemnation from deputies in Erbil.

Qahwachi said she had voted in favour of the referendum because she said Turkmen were protected in Kurdistan, unlike in the rest of Iraq. "Do not listen to anyone, we are going to go to a referendum", Masoud Barzani said during a campaign for the Kurdish referendum in Duhok Province.

"The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas", the White House said a statement.

"He [Kareem] is an elected governor of the council of Kirkuk", said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to President Barzani.

The neighboring countries of Turkey, Iran and Syria also feel that the move would threaten their territorial integrity, as large numbers of Kurdish population live in those countries. Ankara refused, insisting they would play a role in retaking Mosul. Both the central government of Iraq and the Kurds claim them as their own.

IS in Iraq is on the verge of defeat, with Iraqi forces, backed by the US -led coalition, recapturing most of the areas once controlled by the terror group.

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