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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Iraq's Kurdish government defies international calls to postpone referendum

Turkey, Iran and Iraq threaten to take 'counter-measures' if Kurdistan goes ahead with the vote

Iraqi Kurdish president Masoud Barzani speaks to supporters during a referendum rally in Sulaimania, Iraq. Ako Rasheed / Reuters / September 20
Iraqi Kurdish president Masoud Barzani speaks to supporters during a referendum rally in Sulaimania, Iraq. Ako Rasheed / Reuters / September 20

The government of Iraqi Kurdistan vowed on Thursday to take all measures necessary to ensure its highly contested independence vote will be held on time on Monday.

The Kurdish high referendum council announced that "the vote will take place on September 25" despite international pleas to call off the poll.

Headed by the president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani, the council reiterated "that as time is running out and no alternative has been offered to replace the referendum and guarantee independence, the vote will be held on time".

The statement also pointed that "if a guarantee for independence is not given to replace the referendum [in the next few days] then the vote will take place on time as planned".

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Kurdish referendum opinions

For: A Kurdish bid for independence will never be convenient for Iraq, it must happen now

Against: Iraqis as well as some Kurds oppose a risky independence referendum

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Turkey, Iraq and Iran's foreign ministers voiced concerns that the referendum would ignite new conflicts in the region whilst endangering gains Iraq has made against ISIL extremists.

In a joint statement, Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif, along with Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and their Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim Al Jaafari said any conflicts sparked as a result of the referendum would "prove difficult to contain".

In a rare trilateral meeting in New York the ministers threatened to take "counter-measures" if Kurdistan goes ahead with the vote.

They also emphasised that the referendum will not be beneficial for the Kurds and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). The statement, however, gave no details of the possible measures but said the ministers called on the international community to intervene.

Ankara and Tehran fear independence for the Kurds of northern Iraq would embolden their own Kurdish minorities, and Baghdad has bitterly opposed the poll.

The three states reaffirmed their commitment to Iraq's territorial integrity and stated their "unequivocal opposition to the referendum."

Read more: US ‘strongly opposes’ Iraqi Kurd referendum

Iraq's Kurds are determined to go ahead with the vote, which, though non-binding, could trigger the process of separation in a country already divided along sectarian and ethnic lines.

Mr Al Jaafari, released a statement after the meeting, concluding that “Iraq, Turkey, and Iran maintain the unconstitutionality of the referendum whilst agreeing to take countermeasures in coordination with each other.”

Mr Al Jaafari also called for a further dialogue and negotiation between Erbil and Baghdad within the framework of the Iraqi constitution to resolve the disputes.

Mr Barzani insists on holding the vote, stating that the "referendum would only be postponed should the Kurds receive an alternative guaranteeing independence for the Kurdistan region in the coming years."

Read more: Erdogan to discuss 'sanctions' against Iraq's Kurdish region

"The people of the Kurdistan region have the right to peacefully and democratically decide on their future whether they want to remain part of Iraq or seced. Self-determination is the fundamental principle of the international law and the UN charter,” Mr Barzani has previously said.

On Wednesday, the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Necirvan Barzani said that the aim of the independence is based on the aspirations of the Kurdish people to attain freedom and to draw their borers.

Mr Barzani urged that a serious dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad is needed,

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to impose sanctions against Kurdish northern Iraq. Turkish troops are also carrying out military exercises near the border.