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Iraqi Kurds set to vote on independence referendum in September

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-06-08 09:52

BAGHDAD - Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday announced it has set a date to hold a referendum on independence on September 25, a move that expected to be opposed strongly by Baghdad central government.

Masoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdish region, announced the vote after a meeting with the Kurdish political parties in Arbil, the capital city of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, according to the Kurdish Rudaw media network.

The referendum will be held in the three provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulamaniyah, in addition to the areas that are disputed by the Kurdish and Baghdad governments, which are currently under Kurdish military control, Rudaw quoted Hemin Hawrami, senior advisor to President Barzani, as saying.

"Referendum and independence are an inalienable and natural right, but it has to take place according to legal measures and within the context of the legitimate institutions and the Kurdistan parliament," Rebwar Hamad, the spokesperson of the Kurdish Islamic Party, told the Kurdish media.

So far, the Iraqi government has no reaction to the declaration and is expected to oppose the Kurdish move in protest to the timing as the Iraqi forces are in fighting against terrorism, including the Islamic State (IS) militant group, and because of the disputed areas outside the region.

Disagreements between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government have been high for years, as the ethnic Kurds consider the northern oil-rich province of Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh, Diyala and Salahudin provinces as disputed areas and want them to be incorporated into their region, a move fiercely opposed by the Arabs and Turkomans and by Baghdad government.

The Iraqi government will see the Kurdish move illegal, as the article 140 of Iraq's 2005 constitution calls for several steps to address the dispute over the ethically-mixed disputed areas, including a referendum.

However, problems raised among the conflicting ethnicities, as Arabs and Turkmen accuse the Kurds of carrying out demographic change in the disputed areas, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk in the years after 2003, while the Kurds are accusing Saddam Hussein's regime of displacing thousands of Kurds who were replaced with Arabs to make Kirkuk a predominantly Arab province.

On March 28, Kirkuk's council voted in raising the Kurdish flag alongside the Iraqi flag on the building of the provincial council despite the withdrawal of Arab and Turkoman council members, who argued that the move is a pre-decision that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan.

The independence of Kurdistan could be opposed also by neighboring countries of Turkey, Iran and Syria who will see that such a step would threaten their territorial integrity, as larger populations of Kurds live in those countries.

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