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U.S. urges Kurds to call off independence vote

17 September 2017

Iraq's Kurds plan to hold the vote on September 25 in three governorates that make up their autonomous region as well as disputed areas like Kirkuk that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad.

On June 7, Barzani announced his intention to hold a referendum on the independence of the Kurdish region and the disputed areas outside the region on September 25.

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 (Islamic State) and stabilise the liberated areas".

The central government in Baghdad opposes the plan, which was announced earlier this year by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

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"Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing", it added.

The results will be binding on President Masoud Barzani and the Kurdish government, which agreed to hold the referendum after a June 7 meeting.

Sixty-five of the sixty-eight parliamentarians present at the sitting in Erbil voted in favor of the referendum, Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported.

However, Kurdish officials say they will use it to pressure the Iraqi government in Baghdad to come to the negotiating table and formalize their independence bid.

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"Even if the independence referendum is held, Baghdad will not recognize its outcome".

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary groups have threatened to dislodge the Kurdish forces from the Kirkuk region, which is due to take part in the referendum.

Baghdad has condemned the referendum, calling it "unconstitutional" and "unilateral".

Barzani has been in dispute with Gorran since he blocked its parliamentarian speaker from Irbil and shuttered the legislature in 2015. Supporters of the referendum argue Kurds deserve their own state after fighting IS and facing years of oppression at the hands of governments in Baghdad, including gassing and ethnic cleansing under former dictator Saddam Hussein.

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U.S. urges Kurds to call off independence vote