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Iraq's Kurds reject US request to postpone independence referendum

Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will go ahead with an independence referendum on 25 September. [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 August, 2017

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Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will go ahead with an independence referendum on 25 September despite a US request to postpone it, a senior Kurdish official said on Saturday.
Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will go ahead with an independence referendum on 25 September despite a US request to postpone it, a senior Kurdish official said on Saturday.

In June, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and representatives of the region's political parties declared the historic referendum.

Kurds have been seeking an independent state since at least the end of World War One when colonial powers divided up the Middle East, but their territory ended up split between modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Barzani to postpone the referendum during a phone call, with the state department saying it was concerned the vote would distract from "more urgent priorities" such as defeating the Islamic State group.

"The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change," said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Barzani, according to Reuters.

The United States and other Western nations are worried that the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad.

Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.

"On the issue of the postponement of the referendum, the President (Barzani) stated that the people of the Kurdistan Region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future," said a statement issued on Friday by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) presidency after Tillerson's call.

Barzani told Reuters in July that the Kurds would take responsibility for the expected 'yes' outcome of the referendum and would implement it through dialogue with Baghdad to avoid conflict.

"We have to rectify the history of mistreatment of our people and those who are saying that independence is not good, our question to them is, 'if it's not good for us, why is it good for you?'" he said in an interview in the KRG capital, Erbil.

Kurdish officials have said disputed areas, including the oil-rich Kirkuk region, will be covered by the referendum, to determine whether they would want to remain or not in Kurdistan.

In 2014, the Kurdish Peshmerga prevented the Islamic State from capturing Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled the militants.

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