With less than a month to go before the much-contested referendum, Falah Mustafa tells The National that the Kurdistan Regional Government stands for 'peaceful coexistence'
Kurdistan independence vote will not impact ISIL fight: KRG foreign minister
The upcoming referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq “will not have a negative impact on the fight against ISIL”, the Kurdistan Regional Government's minister of foreign relations has said.
Falah Mustafa told The National he wanted to reassure the international community that next month's vote would not distract from the battle against the extremists and that whatever the outcome the KRG would continue to "co-operate and co-ordinate with the Iraqi army and coalition partners in order to combat terrorism and extremism".
His remarks come as the United States says the timing of the referendum means it will distract from "more urgent priorities" in the region, such as the defeat of ISIL.
The US and other western states also fear the September 25 vote could ignite a new conflict between Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad and possibly neighbouring countries, with Turkey and Iran voicing concern that the poll could encourage secession in their own Kurdish-majority regions.
But Mr Mustafa told The National the KRG would take "no provocative action".
"We will not provoke anyone," he repeated. "We will stay committed to peace, dialogue and negotiation."
He said the KRG would also remain "fully committed … to hosting the communities who have sought shelter in Kurdistan" from ISIL.
"We will make sure that they only go back, with dignity, to their own homes after their areas are safe and secure,” the minister added.
Mr Mustafa said the KRG had sought to make such assurances to US defence secretary James Mattis, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian when the three men made separate visits to Iraq last week.
If Iraqi Kurds vote in favour of an independent state on September 25, then the KRG will "[pave] the way to have a peaceful negotiation process (with Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi's government)," the minister said, "a process that would bring about mutual understanding and also peaceful coexistence as two good neighbours would have, since we have failed to become two good partners in the same country”.
Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish communities, all oppose Kurdish independence from Iraq, while Mr Al Abadi's government has rejected the planned referendum as unilateral and unconstitutional.
But Mr Mustafa urged the international community to take into consideration the tragic history and suffering of Iraq's Kurdish population.
The government perceived that the fall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein "was an opportunity for all to build a peaceful and prosperous future together", he said.
"But unfortunately day after day that became more and more difficult until we ended up having a situation where we were neither fully integrated to Iraq nor fully independent".