Iraq’s Kur­dish par­lia­ment backs ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence


ER­BIL (Reuters) – The par­lia­ment of Iraq’s au­ton­o­mous Kur­dis­tan re­gion ap­proved a plan on Fri­day to hold a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence on Septem­ber 25, ig­nor­ing op­po­si­tion from Bagh­dad and the wider re­gion, as well as west­ern con­cerns it could spark con­flict.

Par­lia­ment con­vened in Er­bil, the seat of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Govern­ment in north­ern Iraq, where an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the law­mak­ers tak­ing part backed the plan.

Hours af­ter the de­ci­sion, the White House pub­licly called for the first time on the KRG to can­cel the ref­er­en­dum, warn­ing that the vote was “dis­tract­ing from ef­forts to de­feat ISIS and sta­bi­lize the lib­er­ated ar­eas.

“The United States does not sup­port the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Govern­ment’s in­ten­tion to hold a ref­er­en­dum later this month,” the White House said in a state­ment. It urged the KRG to “en­ter into se­ri­ous and sus­tained di­a­logue with Bagh­dad, which the United States has re­peat­edly in­di­cated it is pre­pared to fa­cil­i­tate.”

The re­gional par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion came de­spite an in­tense diplo­matic drive by the United States, which has pro­vided crit­i­cal mil­i­tary aid to the KRG’s fight against ISIS, to per­suade the Kur­dish lead­er­ship to can­cel the ref­er­en­dum.

The par­lia­ment ses­sion was the first held since the leg­is­la­ture was sus­pended nearly two years ago, though only 68 of 111 law­mak­ers at­tended due to a boy­cott by the main op­po­si­tion move­ment Gor­ran.

“We’ve been wait­ing more than 100 years for this,” Omed Khosh­naw, a law­maker from the Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party (KDR) of KRG Pres­i­dent Mas­soud Barzani, told Reuters.

“There is no other way to guar­an­tee that geno­cide will never be re­peated,” Khosh­naw told the as­sem­bly ear­lier, re­fer­ring to the per­se­cu­tion of the Kurds and their ex­pul­sion from ar­eas such as oil-rich Kirkuk un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein.

Some law­mak­ers wore Kur­dish flags and rose to sing the na­tional an­them af­ter the vote.

The Bagh­dad par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion ear­lier last week to op­pose the ref­er­en­dum drew con­dem­na­tion in Er­bil.

“We refuse to ac­cept the Iraqi par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion, which was un­law­ful,” Muna Qahwachi, a Turk­man law­maker, said.

Qahwachi voted in fa­vor be­cause Turk­men were pro­tected in Kur­dis­tan, un­like in the rest of Iraq.

Ear­lier, Barzani shrugged off re­quests from the United States and other West­ern pow­ers to put off the ref­er­en­dum. They fear in­creased ten­sions be­tween Bagh­dad and Er­bil will dis­tract from the war on Is­lamic State mil­i­tants who still oc­cupy parts of Iraq and Syria.

Iran and Tur­key also op­pose the plebiscite, fear­ing an in­de­pen­dent Kur­dish state could fuel sep­a­ratism among their own Kur­dish pop­u­la­tions.

The op­po­si­tion Gor­ran move­ment boy­cotted Fri­day’s par­lia­men­tary ses­sion, the first since a dis­pute be­tween them and Barzani’s KDP caused the sus­pen­sion of the as­sem­bly in Oc­to­ber 2015.

“Those as­sem­bled in par­lia­ment to­day think this is a law­ful ses­sion, but this is un­law­ful,” Birzu Ma­jeed, the head of Gor­ran’s par­lia­men­tary block, told a news con­fer­ence held while par­lia­ment was in ses­sion.

Law­mak­ers from a third party, the Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan (PUK), en­sured the re­quired quo­rum. The PUK is a his­toric ri­val of the KDP but sup­ports the ref­er­en­dum plan.

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