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Kurds Say ‘No Turning Back’ on Referendum, Seek to Appease Baghdad and Ankara | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Kurdish peshmerga fighters drive in convoy through Arbil after leaving a base in northern Iraq on October 28, 2014 (AFP Photo/Safin Hamed)

Turkey on Friday warned that a decision by Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to hold an independence referendum would be a “grave mistake” as Baghdad authorities said they would reject any such unilateral move.

On Wednesday, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani announced that a referendum on Kurdish independence would be held on Sept. 25.

“We believe that the announcement by the (Iraqi Kurdish region) to hold an independence referendum on September 25 … will constitute a grave mistake,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement. 

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also called the referendum plan “irresponsible”, adding that the
region had enough problems at the moment.

Speaking to reporters after Friday prayers, Yildirim said Turkey wanted all Iraqis to live together as one nation.

Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Haddithi also said that “no party can on its own decide the fate of Iraq, in isolation from the other parties.”

“Iraq is constitutionally a democratic, federal country with full sovereignty (..) Any measure from any side in Iraq should be based on the constitution,” Haddithi said in a statement.

The reaction from Turkey and the Iraqi government came a day after the United States warned that the decision to hold the independence referendum could distract from the fight against ISIS.

“The United States supports a unified, federal, stable and democratic Iraq,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

“We understand and appreciate the legitimate aspirations of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan,” Nauert said.

“However, we have expressed our concerns to authorities in the Kurdistan Region that holding a referendum — even this non-binding resolution — at this time will distract from more urgent priorities,” she added.

Nauert listed those priorities as defeating ISIS, housing refugees from the fighting, rebuilding the economy and resolving existing political disputes.  

And she said the Kurdish region should resolve its issues with Baghdad “on the basis of the Iraqi constitution.”

But Hoshiyar Zebari, a senior ally of Barzani, said: “We crossed the Rubicon with that decision, there is no
going back.”

A vote for secession would not mean the Kurds annexed either the oil-rich region of Kirkuk or three other disputed regions in Kurdish-controlled territory, he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“You will hear people saying we are for Iraq’s unity, territorial integrity, we want dialogue between Baghdad and
Erbil, we understand all this,” he said.

“A referendum is a democratic process, no democratic country can oppose having a referendum; we are not talking about independence, we are talking about the referendum.”