IRBIL — Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani again stressed on Friday that next week’s referendum on independence for the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq will proceed as planned.
“The referendum is no longer in my hands, nor is it in those of the (political) parties — it is in your hands,” he told a large crowd at a football stadium in the regional capital of Arbil.
“We say that we are ready for serious open-minded dialogue with Baghdad, but after September 25, because now it is too late,” Barzani said of Monday’s plebiscite.
On Saturday, Barzani is to hold a news conference at which he is expected to announce definitively whether the controversial vote will go ahead.
He has held a series of meetings over the past few days in Kirkuk, Sulaimaniyah, Zakho and Dohuk at which he has expressed the view that the vote will take place.
However, negotiations are still going on aimed at persuading Barzani to change his mind, according to officials close to the discussions.
“Nothing is definitive yet. Discussions are continuing to try to offer him serious guarantees that will convince him to change his mind,” said one official who did not wish to be identified.
The Iraqi government is opposed to the referendum in the region, which it has called unconstitutional, as are neighboring Turkey and Iran, which fear it will fan separatism among their own Kurdish minorities.
The US, too, has voiced its objections, urging for the independence vote to be called off.
The White House said in a statement last week that “the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas.”
“Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing,” the White House added.
Earlier this month, Israel became the first, and so far only, country to openly voice support for “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, without specifying where and how.
Iraqi Kurdistan has since 2003 been made up of the three provinces of Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah, but its leaders have laid claim to other areas that are constitutionally under Baghdad’s authority, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.