UN won’t back Kurdistan independence referendum in Iraq: official

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Parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo: KRG

The United Nations said it will not be “engaged in any way or form” in the process surrounding the independence referendum in Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region planned for September.

The statement by the UN special mission to Iraq, or UNAMI, released late Wednesday could cast doubts on the credibility of the vote, which has already sparked wide criticism from the central government in Baghdad and several regional and Western nations.

Last week, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani, announced September 25 as a referendum day on Kurdish independence. The referendum will determine whether the Kurdish region would secede from Iraq.

The balloting is to be held in three governorates that make up the Kurdish region but also in areas that are contested by both the Kurds and the central government. Those disputed areas have been under the Kurds’ control since the 2014 ISIS’s onslaught in western and northern Iraq and the withdrawal of security forces from these areas.

The UNAMI statement did not say why it was distancing itself from the referendum, but added that it “seeks to rectify inaccurate news reports that UNAMI will oversee, support or observe” the vote. UNAMI “has no intention to be engaged in any way or form” with the referendum, it concluded.

Baghdad says such a referendum cannot be determined by a single party and that it will lead to more problems. Turkey and Iran, which have large and sometimes restive Kurdish minorities, have also expressed strong displeasure over the vote.

With a population of about 5 million, Iraq’s Kurdish region already enjoys a high degree of autonomy, including its own parliament and armed forces.

ISIS militants routed the Iraqi security forces and took control of much of the country’s north in 2014. Since then, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have retaken large chunks of ISIS-held territory, including the oil-rich Kirkuk, leading to more tensions with Baghdad.

Meanwhile, both Turkey and Iran have opposed the independence referendum. However, the Iraqi Kurds say that the regional countries should not interfere in the Kurdistan region’s affairs.

“When we talk about a referendum, we talk about Kurdistan in Iraq only,” KRG’s foreign relations chief Falah Mustafa Bakir said, in a message to the neighbouring countries that have their own Kurdish populations, and fear Kurdish independence will inspire their own Kurds to seek more independence.

Agencies

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