x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

President of Iraqi Kurdistan says 'its our right to seek independence'

Masoud Barzani says he wants to reach an agreement with Baghdad after the vote that takes place on September 25

President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani receives Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul Gheit in Erbil.  EPA/GAILAN HAJI
President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani receives Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul Gheit in Erbil. EPA/GAILAN HAJI

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan warned Baghdad's central government of plans to draw "new Kurdish borders" if it does not accept its referendum vote.

"Its our right to seek independence, this is the first time in history that people in Kurdistan will freely decide their future," Masoud Barzani told the BBC.

Baghdad's central government rejects the vote calling it "unconstitutional", while Washington, Tehran and Ankara have pressed the Kurds to postpone the poll. They claim the referendum will distract from the fight against ISIL and will spark further instability in the region.

Despite the pleas, Kurdistan's regional government urges it will press ahead with the vote plans.

"When have we ever had stability and security in this region that we should be concerned about losing it? When was Iraq so united that we should be worried about breaking its unity? Those who are saying this are just looking for excuses to stop us," Mr Barzani said.

The Kurdish president confirmed he wants to reach an agreement with Baghdad after the vote that takes place on September 25. 

"After the vote, we will start talks with Baghdad, to reach an agreement over border, water and oil. We will take these steps and if they don't accept them, that will be another matter," Mr Barzani said.

Voting will take place both in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and in areas that are still disputed such as Kirkuk, which is home to Iraqi Arabs, Turkmen, Christians and Kurds, and is claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil.

"If people of Kirkuk vote 'No' in this referendum we will respect their vote. We don't accept that anyone can prevent us from holding a referendum there," Mr Barzani said. 

The governor of Kirkuk, Negm Al Din Karim, said on Monday that the referendum vote will "not affect the historic coexistence among the people of the province."

Mr Barzani cautioned that "if any group wants to change the reality of Kirkuk using force, they should expect that every single Kurd will be ready to fight over it."

Meanwhile, Iraqi Turkmen political parties in Kirkuk reiterated their opposition calling supporters to boycott the poll. Ershad Salihi, head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front said that the vote is “a tool being used against the region’s Turkmen.”

On Sunday, the head of the Arab League Ahmed Abul-Gheit held talks with Mr Barzani in Erbil.

Mr Abul-Gheit said that the "longstanding disputes between Baghdad and Erbil should be resolved through dialogue", and urged Mr Barzani to delay the much contested vote.

The Iraqi prime minister is planning to visit Ankara to hold talks with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who visited Baghdad last month.

Haider Al Abadi is expected to discuss the Kurdish referendum with Mr Cavusoglu.