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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Barzani says Kurdish partnership with Baghdad has failed

Erbil has not received the "required alternative to cancel the referendum", Iraqi Kurd president says

Kurds cheer during a referendum campaign rally by Iraqi Kurd president Masoud Barzani in Sulaymaniah on September 20, 2017. Ako Rasheed / Reuters
Kurds cheer during a referendum campaign rally by Iraqi Kurd president Masoud Barzani in Sulaymaniah on September 20, 2017. Ako Rasheed / Reuters

Iraqi Kurdistan's partnership with Baghdad has "failed" over the Kurdish independence referendum, the region's president said on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia joined an international chorus of opposition to the vote.

"Kurdistan was forced to make its decision because Iraq failed to commit to its constitution and partnership," Masoud Barzani said.

"Erbil has not received the required alternative to cancel the referendum."

Iraq's central government has rejected the vote planned for Monday as unconstitutional, while several members of the international coalition fighting ISIL have said it would affect the fight against the extremists and create further instability in the region and called for it to be postponed.

Mr Barzani had asked Baghdad to propose an internationally backed alternative that would secure Kurdish rights to statehood, or else the vote would go ahead.

"The referendum is to reach a sacred objective that is independence," he told a campaign rally in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah on Wednesday.

He suggested it would be followed by one or two years of negotiations with Baghdad.

"After the Kurdish referendum, Erbil will hold extensive talks with Baghdad and the international community, during which the negotiations of Kurdistan separating from Iraq will be held," Mr Barzani said.

Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi reiterated his government's rejection of referendum, saying it violated the constitution and would weaken the Iraqi state.

Changing the borders “by force” unilaterally amounted to opening “a door to blood", Mr Al Abadi said late on Wednesday. However, “the day where Iraqis are fighting one another will never come”, he said.

The prime minister had warned last week of military intervention if the referendum led to violence.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday voiced its opposition to the referendum and called for it be cancelled.

"Saudi Arabia looks to the wisdom of President Barzani in not holding the referendum," the foreign ministry said.

"Avoiding a referendum in Kurdistan will prevent many risks in Iraq and the region," the ministry said, while "any unilateral measures in Iraq will further complicate the regional situation".

The ministry's statement comes after the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs Thamer Al Sabhan, a former ambassador to Iraq, met Mr Barzani in Erbil last Saturday as part of its mediation effort.

The European Union also warned against holding the referendum and called for “peaceful and constructive dialogue between the Kurdistan region and Baghdad to reach a mutually agreed solution based on the Iraqi constitution".

“Unilateral actions, such as the proposed referendum, is counterproductive and must be avoided,” Federica Mogherini, the EU's top diplomat, said.

But French president Emmanuel Macron said his country would not stand against the vote.

“The Kurds and France have a long-standing relationship,” he said. “If this referendum is held, I hope it leads to a proper representation of Kurds in government and within the framework of the [Iraqi] constitution.”