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.”