Kur­dish MPs back ref­er­en­dum

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

ERBIL: The par­lia­ment of Iraq’s au­ton­o­mous Kur­dis­tan re­gion has ap­proved a plan to hold a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence on Sept 25, ig­nor­ing op­po­si­tion from Bagh­dad and the wider re­gion as well as Western con­cerns that the vote could spark fresh con­flict. Par­lia­ment re­con­vened in Erbil, the seat of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Govern­ment (KRG) in north­ern Iraq, where an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the Kur­dish 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 (Is­lamic State) and sta­bi­lize the lib­er­ated areas.” “The United States does not sup­port the Kud­is­tan 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 Is­lamic State, 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 said. “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 late Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein.

Some law­mak­ers wore Kur­dish flags and rose to clap and sing the na­tional an­them af­ter the vote. The Bagh­dad par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion ear­lier this week to op­pose the ref­er­en­dum drew con­dem­na­tion from deputies in Erbil. “We refuse to ac­cept the Iraqi par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion, which was un­law­ful,” Muna Qahwachi, a Turk­man law­maker said. Qahwachi said she had voted in fa­vor of the ref­er­en­dum be­cause she said 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. “We still haven’t heard a pro­posal that can be an al­ter­na­tive to the Kur­dis­tan ref­er­en­dum,” Barzani told a rally in the Kur­dish re­gion, re­fer­ring to a pro­posal put for­ward by the United States and other Western en­voys this week. Iraq’s neigh­bors 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

Pres­sure re­buffed

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.

Mean­while, Ira­nian-backed Iraqi Shi­ite para­mil­i­tary groups have threat­ened to dis­lodge the Kur­dish forces from the Kirkuk re­gion, which is due to take part in the ref­er­en­dum. Kirkuk is home to size­able Arab and Turk­men pop­u­la­tions and lies out­side the of­fi­cial bound­aries of the Kur­dis­tan re­gion. It is claimed by both the Kurds and the cen­tral govern­ment in Bagh­dad. Kur­dish pesh­merga fight­ers seized Kirkuk and other dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries when the Iraqi army col­lapsed in the face of Is­lamic State in 2014, pre­vent­ing its oil­fields from fall­ing into mil­i­tant hands. — AFP

ERBIL: Syr­ian Kurds take part in a rally in the north­east­ern Syr­ian city of Qamishli in sup­port of an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum. —

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