Barzani Vows to Press on With Kurdish Referendum, Defying Iraqi Parliament

Barzani Vows to Press on With Kurdish Referendum, Defying Iraqi Parliament

 Masoud Barzani vowed to press ahead with a referendum on Kurdish independence on September 25 despite a vote by Iraq's parliament to reject the move.

Earlier the parliament in Baghdad authorized the prime minister to "take all measures" to preserve Iraq's unity. Kurdish lawmakers walked out of the session before the vote and issued statements rejecting the decision.

Western powers fear a plebiscite in the Kurdistan Region - including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk - could ignite conflict with the central government in Baghdad and divert attention from the war against Islamic State militants.

Iraq's neighbors - Turkey, Iran and Syria - also oppose the referendum, fearing it could fan separatism among their own ethnic Kurdish populations.

Barzani told a gathering of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk on Tuesday (September 12) that the referendum was "a natural right", according to a tweet from his aide Hemin Hawrami. Barzani also said Kirkuk should have a "special status" in a new, independent Kurdistan.

Iraqi lawmakers worry that the referendum will consolidate Kurdish control over several areas claimed by both the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.

Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city, voted last month to participate in the referendum, a move that stoked tensions with its Arab and Turkmen residents, as well as with Baghdad.

Peshmerga forces took control of the Kirkuk area and other areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds after Islamic State (ISIS) militants overran about a third of Iraq in 2014 and Baghdad's local forces disintegrated.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the Kurds were continuing to "illegally export" Kirkuk's oil, and he called for urgent talks.