Irbil, Baghdad – Even though Kurdish President Masoud Barzani confirmed that it was too late for an alternative for the independence referendum, senior Kurdish official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Mala Bakhtiyar asked Kurdish authorities to seriously consider the proposal suggested by major countries.
Speaking at a rally for the independence vote in Duhok in Nineveh on Saturday, Barzani said that the referendum is a means and not a goal, adding that had there been an alternative it would have been welcomed. Thus, according to Barzani, the time has passed for an alternative to replace the independence vote on September 25.
He told the crowd: “We still have not received the alternative that could replace the referendum. You should therefore cast your votes on September 25 and take your decision.”
Barzani added that he does not accept any state to question the legitimacy of the vote, reiterating that Kurdistan is willing to attend meetings to discuss the matter only after the vote.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi threatened to use military force in case violence erupted after the referendum.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, he said if the Iraqi people were threatened by the use of force outside the law, the government will intervene militarily.
“If you challenge the constitution and if you challenge the borders of Iraq and the borders of the region, this is a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders as well, which is a very dangerous escalation,” he warned.
However, when asked about negotiations between Baghdad and Kurdistan, the PM confirmed that negotiations are always possible.
“I will never close the door to negotiations. Negotiations are always possible. It will make it harder and more difficult. Because there are a lot of outstanding issues, there are disputed areas, there is the oil, there are the borders, there are the ports and other issues which have not been solved for years. This will be very difficult. We were together in one country and it was tough even then to resolve it. Now if you were to separate (regions), I think to resolve it will be much harder,” Abadi continued to say.
The United Nations and US-led international coalition recently presented the Kurdish authorities with an alternative to the independence referendum. Asharq Al-Awsat published some of its details on Saturday.
The UN urged Barzani to drop plans for the referendum and enter talks with Baghdad aimed at reaching a deal within three years.
Agence France-Presse published on Saturday further details of the UN proposal, which included a “structured, sustained, intensive and result-oriented partnership negotiations.. on how to resolve all the problems and outstanding issues” between Baghdad and Irbil.
UN envoy in Iraq Jan Kubis offered international backing for immediate negotiations between the country’s federal government and the autonomous Kurdish region.
Kubis called for talks, overseen by the UN Security Council, that would aim to reach a deal defining “principles and arrangements” for future relations between Baghdad and the Kurdish government. In return, the Kurdish administration agrees to postponing the referendum at least until the end of negotiations.
When asked about the alternative, Kubis said: “Here is this offer, if they accept this alternative, there will be negotiations.”
He added that he expects a reply rom Barzani within two or three days.
Amid the national preparations for the referendum, Bakhtiyar said that they believe the Kurdish leadership should take the alternative offered by the US, United Kingdom and UN “very seriously.”
“We from the PUK believe that the alternative should be taken very seriously,” he announced at a press conference. He added that the Kurdish leadership is going to hold several important meetings over two days to study the joint offer.
He concluded that the alternative with full consent of the Iraqi government should make sure that all outstanding issues are resolved, the constitution of Iraq is upheld and democracy is respected.
Meanwhile, PUK MP Khalaf Ahmad denied rumors claiming officials in Kurdistan are divided over the referendum.
Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, Ahmad confirmed that most political Kurdish parties have a unanimous opinion on this matter.
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) MP Firsat Sofi also told Asharq al-Awsat that both the PUK and KDP are looking into the matter of the alternative and Barzani confirmed that if the international community or US presented tangible evidence about a substitute that meets the needs of the Kurdish people, then they are willing to discuss it.
However, Sofi said: “If they told us to go to Baghdad and negotiate the issues with authorities there, this is not an alternative. We have been discussing with Baghdad for a decade now and no progress has been achieved; not even the slightest.”
He reiterated that an alternative should be limited by a timetable and backed by international resolutions.