Iraq's Kurdish leader vows to conduct independence referendum

Late last month, Kirkuk's provincial council - at a session boycotted by Turkmen and Arab members - voted to include the disputed province in a planned September 25 referendum on Kurdish regional independence.

Voters will face one question, asked in Kurdish, Arabic, Turkmen, and Assyrian: "Do you want the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and Kurdistani territories that are outside KRI to become an independent state?"

Seventy-three members of the 111-strong parliament attended the session, which started with the national anthem, Kurdish news portal Rudaw reported.

The opposition Gorran, the second-largest party in parliament, and the smaller Kurdistan Islamic Group, boycotted the vote and called it invalid.

The controversial referendum, results of which will be non-binding, will see residents of the northern Kurdish region vote on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq.

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"Since the adoption of the new Iraqi constitution in 2005, successive governments in Baghdad have violated the constitution, and it is clear to the people of Kurdistan that Baghdad will never implement key provisions of the constitution".

The planned vote has escalated tensions with Baghdad as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran - countries home to sizeable Kurdish populations.

"If we wait for other states to give us independence as a gift, this will not happen".

In late 1980s, forces of Iraq's then autocrat Saddam Hussein unleashed several attacks on Kurdish areas, including with chemical weapons. Irbil and Baghdad have always been in disagreement over oil revenues and contracts the Kurdistan region has signed with oil companies.

The regional parliament's decision came despite an intense diplomatic drive by the United States, which has provided critical military aid to the KRG's fight against Islamic State, to persuade the Kurdish leadership to cancel the referendum.

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"The US has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas", the White House statement said.

But Barzani has vowed to press forward despite unspecified "alternatives" offered by the United States this week to entice its Iraqi Kurdish allies to delay the referendum. "Therefore, it will be held as scheduled", Barzani told a pro-independence rally in the town of Amedi.

Borders and military forces would remain in their current positions, and Baghdad would authorize Kurdistan to continue exporting the oil that it now ships through Turkey in breach of the federal constitution.

Shortly after the session, the Kirkuk governor rejected the parliament decision in a statement, describing it as "invalid" and insisting that he'll stay in office.

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