Kurd MPs approve referendum
Plan stirs protests from neighbouring states of Turkey and Iran
Arbil ( iraq): Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers voted to hold an independence referendum set in motion by regional president Massud Barzani, who has kept open the option of postponing it under American pressure.
In the face of bitter opposition from Baghdad, 65 out of 68 lawmakers present voted in favour of the Sept 25 poll as opposition members boycotted the parliament’s first session in two years.
After the show of hands, lawmakers stood to sing the Kurdish anthem while others raised flags.
The vote was to give a legal framework to the referendum that has also stirred protests from neighbouring states, especially Turkey.
Washington opposes the referendum on the grounds that it would weaken Arab-Kurdish joint military operations which have helped send the Islamic State (IS) militant group into retreat in both Iraq and Syria.
The United States has proposed unspecified “alternatives” to which Barzani has pledged to give a rapid response.
“If they have a stronger alternative to the referendum, the Kurdish leadership will look at it, but if they want (us) to postpone the vote with no alternatives, we won’t,” Barzani said on Thursday.
The session was the regional parliament’s first in two years, and Barzani’s mandate as president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq officially expired in 2015.
The Kurdish leadership, made up of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Iraq’s former president Jalal Talabani, have maintained that the three-year-old battle to drive back IS has made it impossible to hold fresh elections.
Two opposition parties – the independent Goran, which has 24 seats in the 111-seat parliament, and Jamaa Islamiya, which is close to Iran and holds six seats – said they would boycott the session.
Friday’s session in Arbil followed two anti-referendum votes which passed earlier this week in the national parliament in Baghdad, both of which were boycotted by Kurdish legislators.
Analysts say the referendum plan, which has stirred Arab-Kurdish ethnic tensions, could mark the end of an era of cooperation during which Baghdad and Arbil battled IS together after it seized swathes of northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014.
Turkey and Iran fear the referendum could stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizeable Kurdish minorities.
Ankara has warned of the “cost” to the Iraqi Kurds, whose economy is heavily dependent on oil exports via a pipeline running through Turkey to the Mediterranean.