Western powers press Iraqi Kurds to shelve independence vote, offer ‘alternative’
AP photoThe United States and Western allies have pressed Iraqi Kurdish leaders to ditch a “very risky” independence vote, presenting an alternative plan in an attempt to avoid conflict between the oil rich region and central government in Baghdad.
The referendum, slated for Sept. 25, has become a potential flashpoint in the region, with Western powers concerned it could ignite conflict with Baghdad and divert attention from the war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“Heading into a referendum for Sept. 25, there is no prospect for international legitimacy,” Brett McGurk, a U.S. special envoy, told reporters Sept. 14 after a delegation also including the U.N. and Britain met Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.
“This is a very risky process.”
McGurk said he was encouraged that Kurdish leaders could embrace an alternative plan focusing on dialogue between the Kurdistan region and Baghdad and a delay in the referendum. He refused to give details.
The Kurdish leadership said the autonomous region’s political leaders would study the proposal, without giving details.
But Barzani himself was later quoted by local media as telling a pro-independence rally the vote would go ahead on Sept. 25 as planned.
The move came after Iraq’s parliament voted to remove the governor of Kirkuk, a staunch supporter of Kurdish independence.
Kirkuk Governor Najmaddin Kareem said he had no intention of following Baghdad’s dismissal order, issued at the behest of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
“I will stay in office,” he told Reuters.
“The referendum will go on as planned...The prime minister does not have the power to ask parliament to remove me.”
Iraqi lawmakers authorized Abadi this week to “take all measures” to preserve national unity before the independence referendum.
Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors are opposed to the vote.
Iraqi lawmakers say it will consolidate Kurdish control over several disputed areas, including oil-rich Kirkuk.