Iraq’s Kurds stick to independence vote despite U.S. request to postpone it

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s Kurds are sticking to a plan to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25, despite a U.S. request to postpone it, a high-ranking Kurdish official told Reuters on Saturday.

The United States and other Western nations are worried that the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and turn into another regional flashpoint. Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.

“The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Barzani to postpone the referendum.

Tillerson made the request in a phone call with Barzani on Thursday, Zebari said.

“On the issue of the postponement of the referendum, the President (Barzani) stated that the people of the Kurdistan Region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future,” said a statement issued on Friday by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) presidency, after Tillerson’s call.

The U.S. State Department said in June it was concerned that the referendum will distract from “more urgent priorities” such as the defeat of Islamic State militants.

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” effectively collapsed last month, when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces completed the takeover of the militants’ capital in Iraq, Mosul, after a nine-month campaign in which Kurdish Peshmerga fighters took part.

FILE PHOTO – U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson gives an opening statement during the ASEAN-U.S. Ministerial meeting of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila, Philippines August 6, 2017.Erik De Castro

The hardline Sunni militants remain however in control of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. The United States has pledged to maintain its backing to allied forces in both countries until the militants’ total defeat.

The Kurds have…

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