Kur­dish leader de­fends in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum


IRBIL, Iraq — The leader of Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion de­fended an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum planned for later this month dur­ing a visit Tues­day to the oil-rich Kirkuk prov­ince, the epi­cen­tre of a dis­pute with the cen­tral govern­ment.

Iraq’s par­lia­ment, mean­while, re­jected the ref­er­en­dum in a non-bind­ing res­o­lu­tion, call­ing it “un­con­sti­tu­tional” and a threat to the coun­try’s unity.

Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold the ref­er­en­dum on Sept. 25 in three gov­er­norates that make up their self-ruled re­gion as well as dis­puted ar­eas that are con­trolled by Kur­dish forces but claimed by Baghdad, in­clud­ing the oil-rich prov­ince of Kirkuk.

Ma­soud Barzani, the pres­i­dent of Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion, in­sisted that hold­ing the ref­er­en­dum in Kirkuk is “en­tirely le­gal.”

“Kirkuk will re­main as safe and se­cure as it is now, kept safe by the pesh­merga,” Barzani said, re­fer­ring to the Kur­dish forces that con­trol the city. “We will not com­pro­mise Kirkuk’s iden­tity. We would rather give up our own rights than to com­pro­mise the rights of the eth­nic mi­nori­ties that live here.”

Kirkuk is home to Arabs, Kurds, Turk­men and Chris­tians. Kur­dish forces took con­trol of the prov­ince and other dis­puted ar­eas in the sum­mer of 2014, when Is­lamic State swept across north­ern and cen­tral Iraq and the Iraqi armed forces crum­bled.

In Kirkuk, Barzani ad­dressed grow­ing fears that the in­de­pen­dence vote could lead to vi­o­lence be­tween forces aligned with Baghdad and those loyal to the Kur­dish re­gion.

“We have no in­ten­tion to start a fight,” he said. “But we have the right to de­fend our­selves. Those who launch a war have to ex­pect a re­sponse.”

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