Turkey, US urge Kurdish leader to cancel planned independence referendum

12:55 • 16.09.17

Turkey and the United States have once again called on Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, to cancel a planned independence referendum scheduled to be held on September 25. 

“Mr. Barzani knows very well what we think about this issue,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told private broadcaster A Haber late on September 15, as he added that Turkey would announce its official position on the referendum after its National Security Council (MGK) and cabinet will be convened on Sept. 22.

“We were going to hold our MGK meeting on Sept. 27 and now we rescheduled the meeting that we will also discuss this referendum issue to September 22. We will hold it at 3 pm. Cabinet will be convened after the MGK meeting. The final decision will be given after these meetings. There are no different proposals. Our stance is clear, but the heightened sensitivity of ours on this issue will be clear after the MGK and cabinet meetings on Sept. 22,” he also said.

Earlier on the same day, Barzani said the vote would not be delayed, despite pressing requests from Turkey, the U.S. and other Western powers worried that the tensions between Baghdad and Erbil would distract from the war on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.   

“We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” Barzani told a rally in the Kurdish region, referring to a proposal put forward by the United States and other Western envoys this week.

President Erdogan commented on Barzani’s statements, saying that “they were really wrong.”

“He has been aware of our sensitivity regarding Iraq’s territorial integrity for years. I don’t find it appropriate at all that he engages in some operations,” he also said. 

“I see this [referendum] as something beyond the abdication of reason. This is political inexperience. There cannot be such an understanding of politics,” Erdogan added. 

Also on September 15, the KRG parliament approved the plan to hold the referendum, ignoring opposition from Baghdad and the wider region as well as Western concerns.

Parliament reconvened in Arbil, where an overwhelming majority of the Kurdish lawmakers taking part backed the plan.

The parliament session was the first held since the legislature was suspended nearly two years ago, though only 68 of 111 lawmakers attended due to a boycott by the main opposition movement Gorran.

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

“Those assembled in parliament today think this is a lawful session, but this is unlawful,” Birzu Majeed, the head of Gorran’s parliamentary block, told a news conference held while parliament was in session. 

Lawmakers from a third party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), ensured the required quorum. The PUK is a historic rival of the KDP but supports the referendum plan.

Hours after the decision, the White House publicly called for the first time on the KRG to cancel the referendum, warning that the vote was “distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas,” using another name for ISIL. 

“The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month,” the White House said in a statement, while urging the KRG to “enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad, which the United States has repeatedly indicated it is prepared to facilitate.” 



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