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UN chief concerned over Kurdish referendum

President of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) Masoud Barzani speaks during a meeting with a group of journalists in Erbil, Iraq on 6 September 2017 [Yunus Keleş/Anadolu Agency]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he was concerned about the “potentially destabilizing effects” of a referendum held by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in defiance of the international community.

Guterres “respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq” and recommends that all outstanding issues “be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise,” said a statement by his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Guterres also expects UN-mandated activities to be allowed to continue unhindered, the statement said.

The US, along with Turkey, the UK, Iran and the Iraqi central government have urged Erbil to abandon the controversial poll, but it proceeded Monday.

Iraqis in areas held by the KRG and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad voted to decide whether to secede from Iraq.

Read More: Iraq takes control of borders ahead of Kurdish independence vote

Earlier Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would take political, economic, commercial and security steps against the KRG.

Iraq’s central government has threatened to intervene militarily if the vote leads to violence.

KRG leader Masoud Barzani, however, said a “Yes” vote would not result in an automatic declaration of independence but would simply lead to further negotiations with Baghdad.

The State Department said last week the referendum would preclude the possibility of negotiations with the Baghdad central government and present a high cost for “all Iraqis, including Kurds”.

It cited disruptions in the fight against Daesh, which the KRG’s Peshmerga forces support, as well as worsening trade relations with neighbors and the destabilizing nature of holding the referendum in internationally disputed areas.

In contrast, “genuine dialogue” promises to resolve Iraqi Kurds’ grievances and establish a new course in Baghdad-Erbil relations, the department said at the time.

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