Kurdish MPs say yes to independence referendum

Iraqi Kurds in Irbil (13/09/17)Image copyright

The Iraqi Kurdish parliament has voted to back a planned referendum in the face of opposition from across the globe.

The Kurdistan Regional Government, sitting for the first time in two years, backed the 25 September vote on Friday.

Iraq’s central government rejected the referendum as unconstitutional on Tuesday.

Iran, Turkey and the US also object to the vote.

Iraq’s government has authorised the prime minister to “take all measures” to preserve national unity.

A number of opposition MPs in the regional parliament had said they were planning to abstain.

Neighbouring Iran and Turkey – which both have Kurdish populations – have expressed their opposition, amid fears a “yes” vote will bolster separatism movements in their countries.

The US – which fears the vote may damage Kurdish-Iraqi relations and harm the fight against so-called Islamic State (IS) – suggested unspecified “alternatives” to the referendum.

Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said he would give a rapid response to the ideas, but appeared to have dismissed them when asked on Friday.

“We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” he said, adding, “The vote won’t be delayed.”

Mr Barzani’s statement was decried by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “very wrong”, news agency Reuters reported.

His words did not deter regional lawmakers, however: 65 members raised their hands to back the referendum.

There are 111 MPs who sit in the parliament, but more than 40 did not attend the sitting, according to local media.

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Media captionMassoud Barzani spoke to the BBC

Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. In Iraq, where they make up an estimated 15% to 20% of the population of 37 million, Kurds faced decades of brutal repression before acquiring autonomy following the 1991 Gulf War.

For the last three years, Kurds across the region have been engaged in the battle against IS.

Three months ago, top officials and political parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government agreed to hold an advisory referendum on independence.

Voting will take place in the three provinces that officially make up the region – Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya – and “areas of Kurdistan outside the region’s administration”, including Kirkuk, Makhmour, Khanaqin and Sinjar.

Kurdish officials have said that an expected “yes” vote will not trigger an automatic declaration of independence, but rather strengthen their hand in lengthy negotiations on separation with the central government.

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