Iran, Turkey Concerned Over Iraqi Kurdish Referendum

Kurdish men march in support of the independence referendum carrying

Lawmakers in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region have approved a plan to stage an independence referendum that is opposed by Baghdad and neighboring countries and has raised Western concerns that the vote could stoke fresh tensions in the region.

The White House urged the KRG to "enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad", over the issue.

"Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing", it added. "Do not listen to anyone, we are going to go to a referendum", Masoud Barzani said during a campaign for the Kurdish referendum in Duhok Province. This includes parts of the northern province of Nineveh and the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, captured by Kurdish peshmerga after the Iraqi army collapsed in 2014 as the "Islamic State" swept through large swaths of the country.

This week, top USA envoy Brett McGurk was again in Arbil and attempted to persuade the Kurdish leader to call off the highly-charged popular vote in exchange for a new diplomatic initiative.

"The leaders of the US, Britain and the United Nations would have had to commit to the date by which Kurdistan and Iraq would have negotiated Kurdish sovereignty - or commit to supporting a Kurdish unilateral declaration of independence". It is claimed by both the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad.

The opposition Gorran movement boycotted Friday's parliamentary session, the first since a dispute between them and Barzani's KDP caused the suspension of the assembly in October 2015.

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?"

Ankara, which has warned the referendum would come at a "cost", has close economic and political relations with the KRG and Barzani.

Thursday, a senior US official announced that Brussels, Washington, Paris, London and Baghdad had cooperatively developed an alternative plan to the contentious referendum.

It is also concerned that the scheduled referendum comprises disputed areas such has Kirkuk, which is home to Turkmen, Arabs, Kurds and Christians.

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