Kurd MPs ap­prove ref­er­en­dum

Plan stirs protests from neigh­bour­ing states of Tur­key and Iran

The Star Malaysia - - World -

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.

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