US urges Iraqi Kurds to call off referendum
washington — The United States on Friday urged Iraqi Kurdistan to call off plans for an independence referendum later this month, warning the vote was distracting from the fight against the Daesh group.
Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers voted on Friday to hold the referendum on September 25, in the face of bitter opposition from Baghdad and protests from neighbouring Iran and Turkey, which fear it will fan separatism among their own Kurdish minorities. Regional president Massud Barzani has kept open the option of postponing it under US pressure. —
washington — Washington put to one side its longstanding sympathy for its allies in Iraqi Kurdistan on Friday and sternly urged the region to call off its independence referendum.
Earlier, Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers had voted to approve the September 25 vote that was set in motion by regional president Massud Barzani, a Washington ally who has publicly kept open the option of postponing it.
Washington has long supported Kurdish autonomy and has relied on the region’s forces in the war against the Daesh group, but it fears that now is not the time for the people to seize their freedom.
US officials fear the vote, while not legally binding, will hurt Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s re-election chances; complicate ties with Turkey; and disrupt the war against Daesh.
“The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat Daesh and stabilise the liberated areas,” President Donald Trump’s White House said, in a statement.
“Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilising,” it warned. While Baghdad recognises Kurdistan’s autonomy, the precise boundary between the region and the rest of Iraq is unclear. Washington has repeatedly offered to help negotiate a long-term settlement between Arbil and Baghdad, but regional leaders — including Barzani — have been increasingly frustrated that warm words have not led to a precise diplomatic timetable.
This week, top US envoy Brett McGurk was again in Arbil and attempted to persuade the Kurdish leader to call off the highly-charged popular vote in exchange for a new diplomatic initiative.
Under this plan, a well-placed source said, the international community will oversee negotiations on revenue sharing in Iraq’s oil budget and payment for Kurdish militia fighters. — AFP
Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. —