Iraq’s Kurdish parliament backs Sept 25 independence referendum

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General view of the Kurdistan Parliament meeting in Erbil, Iraq September 15, 2107. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

ERBIL: The parliament of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region approved a plan to hold a referendum on independence on September 25, ignoring Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish opposition as well as US and Western concern that the vote could cause new conflicts in the region.

An overwhelming majority of Kurdish MPs raised their hands to approve the plan during the first session held by the parliament since it was suspended two years ago.

The parliament reconvened on Friday in Erbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.

The central government in Baghdad opposes the plan, as do Iraq’s neighbours Iran and Turkey, which fear that an independent Kurdish state could fuel separatism among their own Kurdish populations.

KRG President Massoud Barzani said earlier on Friday the vote would not be delayed, despite pressing requests from the United States and other Western powers worried that the tension between Baghdad and Erbil would distract from the war on Islamic State militants who occupy parts of Iraq and Syria.

“We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” Barzani said in a speech at a rally in the Kurdish region, referring to talks held with US and Western envoys this week in Erbil.

Gorran, the main opposition movement to Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), boycotted the parliament session in Erbil. A dispute between Gorran and the KDP caused the assembly to suspend its sessions in 2015.

MPs from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) attended the session, ensuring the required quorum. The PUK is a historic rival of the KDP but is supporting the referendum plan.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi‘ite paramilitary groups have threatened to dislodge the Kurdish forces from the oil-rich Kirkuk region, which is due to take part in the referendum.

Kirkuk is home to sizeable Arab and Turkmen populations and is outside the KRG official boundaries. The Kurds claim it as part of their homeland.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters seized Kirkuk and other disputed territories when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of Islamic State in 2014. The Kurdish move prevented Kirkuk’s oilfields from falling into the hands of the militants.

“We’ve been waiting for more than 100 years” to have a state, KDP MP Omed Khoshnaw told agencies after the vote.

”There is no other way to guarantee that genocide will never be repeated,” he told the assembly earlier, referring to the persecution of the Kurds and their expulsion from areas including Kirkuk under former president Saddam Hussein.

ERDOGAN SAYS KURDS’ DECISION NOT TO POSTPONE REFERENDUM ‘VERY WRONG’

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani’s decision not to postpone an independence referendum later this month is “very wrong”, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Speaking in an interview with broadcaster A Haber, Erdogan said Turkey would announce its official position on the referendum after its National Security Council and cabinet have convened on Sept 22.