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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Iraqi Kurdistan leader calls elections for November

The elections will follow an independence referendum set for September 25, a move that will strain Iraq's frayed federal unity and annoy Syria, Turkey and Iran, which also have sizeable Kurdish populations.

The president of Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan, Masoud Barazani, has called for parliamentary and presidential elections to take place in November.

The move could help ease a long-running political row as the Kurds push for independence from Baghdad’s central government.

The elections will follow an independence referendum set for September 25, a move that will strain Iraq's frayed federal unity and annoy Syria, Turkey and Iran, which also have sizeable Kurdish populations.

In response, Iraq’s prime minister, Haider Al Abadi has stated that a decision by Kurdish authorities to hold a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan is “unconstitutional" and that "It is in the interest of the Kurds to stay with Iraq.”

The political developments take place as Iraqi government forces push back ISIL militants from territory in northern Iraq, a campaign in which Kurdish peshmerga forces have played a vital role.

The Kurdistan region last held a presidential election in 2009 and a parliamentary election in 2013. President Barzani won the 2009 poll but has said he will not stand again.

His term of office expired in 2013 and has been extended twice, during which time Kurdistan has suffered bouts of unrest and political disarray. The parliament has not met since October 2015. An aide to Mr Barzani said the election was set for November 1.

Following the 2013 parliamentary election, Mr Barzani formed a broad-based government led by his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) with the Gorran (Change) movement holding a number of posts, including that of speaker of the parliament.

In an escalating political crisis, four Gorran ministers were removed from the cabinet in October 2015 and the speaker of parliament was barred from entering the capital. The KDP accused Gorran, which had demanded a reduction of Mr Barzani's powers, of orchestrating violent protests in which party offices were attacked.

The Kurdistan parliament has not sat since. However, the KDP said this week it would drop its conditions for reconvening the parliament to help the independence referendum succeed, including allowing the speaker, Yousif Mohammed, to return.

Parties such as Gorran and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) all favour independence but not necessarily under the leadership of Barzani and the KDP.

Mr Barzani has accused the Shiite-led Iraqi government, backed by Iran, of not sticking to a constitutional agreement to allow the Kurds to have greater powers under a federal state set up after the the 2003 invasion that ended the rule of Saddam Hussein.

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