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Iraq PM Abadi says Kurdish referendum untimely
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) June 13, 2017

Erdogan calls Iraqi Kurdish referendum 'error and threat'
Ankara (AFP) June 13, 2017 - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday strongly criticised the decision of the authorities in Iraq's Kurdistan region to hold a referendum on independence, calling it "an error and a threat" to the country's territorial integrity.

Turkey has prided itself on its good ties with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq's north, with its leader Massud Barzani a frequent visitor to Ankara.

But even as Turkish investment poured into the regional capital of Arbil, Turkey has always kept a wary eye on any moves towards full independence.

Ankara is still battling a more than three-decade insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) for autonomy in southeast Turkey that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

It also strongly opposes any autonomous region for Syrian Kurds in the north of Syria that might result from more than six years of civil war in the country.

"Making a step towards independence in the north of Iraq is an error and a threat for the territorial integrity of Iraq," Erdogan said in a speech to his party in Ankara.

Barzani announced on June 7 that a referendum would be held in Kurdish areas of Iraq on September 25 to ask voters if they want a separate state.

The vote is nonbinding, but the move was greeted with irritation by Baghdad.

"We have always defended the territorial integrity of Iraq and we will continue to do so," said Erdogan, adding that such a referendum "was in the interest of no one".

Widely seen as the world's largest stateless people, most Kurds are spread between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. But it is only in Iraq where they have achieved a recognised autonomy.

Iraqi Kurdish oil is exported through Turkey, a key economic lifeline for the region.

The PKK, for its part, maintains rear bases in the mountains of northern Iraq even though Barzani has repeatedly expressed discomfort at their presence.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday said he understood the Kurdish minority's statehood aspirations but bemoaned its leadership's decision to hold an independence referendum in September.

"Every part of Iraq has aspirations and has a dream, and we respect that, even if we disagree with it," he said, responding to the Kurdish push to achieve statehood.

"We live in one homeland and they are our partners," Abadi said, referring to the Kurds.

"We have a constitution that we've voted on, we have a federal parliament and a federal government," he said. "The referendum at this time is not opportune."

Abadi was speaking at a press conference in Baghdad nearly a week after the presidency of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region announced a referendum on independence for September 25.

The Kurds had already said they would aim to organise such a vote after the battle of Mosul against the Islamic State group, which appears to be in its final stages, was won.

Such a referendum, the positive outcome of which is in little doubt, would be non-binding and leave the approximately five million Kurds of northern Iraq some way away from actual independence.

The support of the federal Iraqi government, of key neighbours such as Iran and Turkey and of major players such as the United States is seen as essential to achieving a viable separation.

Baghdad's reaction to the announcement was seen internally as relatively meek given that the break-up of the country is at stake.

An Iraqi official told AFP on condition of anonymity that an overly antagonistic reaction to the announcement of the referendum would serve only to unite Kurdish factions against Baghdad and give the independence drive more momentum.

Internal division is one of the Kurds' main weaknesses as they set the wheels in motion for an independence process that is likely to last years.

Washington and other Western partners of the Kurdish administration have taken much the same line as Baghdad, recognising their legitimate independence aspirations but warning that the timing of the referendum was not helpful.

Journey to statehood still long for Iraq Kurds
Baghdad (AFP) June 13, 2017
Many Iraqi Kurds hailed last week's announcement of a September referendum on independence as historic, but major obstacles will remain on the path to statehood after an expected landslide "yes". The autonomous region is still at war with the Islamic State group, it hosts a displaced population of more than a million and its once promising economy has taken a double hit from conflict and low ... read more

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