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Kurdish referendum will not be granted international legitimacy

Iraq's national flag [L] and Kurdish regional flag [R]

Western officials have once again pressed on Kurdish leaders to cancel the 25 September independence referendum by threatening not to grant international legitimacy to the elections.

The United States and Western allies pressed Kurdish leaders yesterday during a meeting in Duhok, northern Iraq, to postpone the referendum on the independence of Iraq’s Kurdistan region saying it was “fraught with grave dangers”. The Western allies offered an alternative plan to try to avert a conflict between the oil-rich province and the central government in Baghdad.

The referendum has become a potential flashpoint in the region, with Western powers worried that it could fuel a conflict with Baghdad and distract attention from the war against Daesh. Previous calls to cancel the election have been strongly rejected. The President of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish Region, Masoud Barzani, brushed aside demands for postponement last month saying it was “absolutely impossible”.

US officials, however, remain insistent: “There is no chance that this referendum, which will be held on September 25, will be given international legitimacy … This is a very risky process,” US envoy to the multinational coalition battling Daesh, Brett McGurk, told reporters after a delegation that included the UN and British representatives met with Barzani.

McGurk said he was optimistic Kurdish leaders would accept an alternative plan that would focus on dialogue between the region and Baghdad and postpone the referendum.

Kurdish leaders are said to be studying an alternative proposal without giving further details. Local sources reported Barzani speaking to a rally in Duhok after the meeting. He confirmed that he had received an alternative plan but regarding the referendum’s postponement he said: “It is not just my decision, and we will discuss this issue with the leadership of Kurdistan and will announce our stance in the near future.”

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Barzani’s task of convincing Kurdish leaders to postpone the referendum maybe more difficult than US officials anticipate. The Governor of Kirkuk, Najmiddin Karim, who was dismissed from office by the Iraqi Parliament up on the request by Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi yesterday, told Reuters that “the referendum will be as planned” and “the prime minister does not have the authority to submit a request to Parliament for [my] dismissal.”

The Iraqi Parliament voted this week to reject the referendum and ordered Al-Abadi to take all necessary measures to preserve the unity of the country.

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