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Iraq’s Kurdistan may postpone referendum in return for concessions: Official

20 August 2017 23:14

 

Iraqs semi-autonomous Kurdistan region may consider the possibility of postponing a planned referendum on independence in return for financial and political concessions from the central government in Baghdad.

Mala Bakhtiar, a senior Kurdish official, said a Kurdish delegation was visiting Baghdad to sound out Iraqi leaders on the proposal.

“What thing would Baghdad be prepared to offer to the (Kurdish) region” in return, asked Bakhtiar, who is the executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Politburo.

On the economic side, the central government in Baghdad should be ready to help the Kurds overcome a financial crisis and settle debts owed by their government, Bakhtiar said in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya.

He estimated the debt at 10 to 12 billion dollars, nearly equal to the annual budget of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which owes to public contractors and civil servants and peshmerga fighters, whose salaries have not been paid in full for several months.

Baghdad stopped payments from the Iraqi federal budget to the KRG in 2014. The stoppage happened after the Kurds began exporting oil independently from Baghdad, via a pipeline, to Turkey.

According to the Kurdish official, at the political level, Baghdad should show commitment to settling the issue of disputed regions such as the oil-rich area of Kirkuk, where Arab and Turkmen communities also live.

The Kurdish delegation would then convey the proposals to Kurdish political parties to make a decision on whether they are good enough to justify a postponement of the vote, Bakhtiar said.

The official, however, highlighted the Kurdish right to hold the vote at a later date. “We don’t accept to postpone the referendum with nothing in return and without fixing another time to hold it.”

Masoud Barzani, the KRG president, announced in a message posted on Twitter in June that the northern territory would hold an independence referendum on September 25 not only in the three provinces that make up the Kurdish region, but also in the areas that were a bone of contention between the Kurdistan region and the central government.

After the announcement, the Iraqi government issued a statement in response, saying it would reject any unilateral move by Kurdish authorities to press for independence.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on June 13 that the Kurdish minority’s decision to hold an independence referendum was untimely.

“Every part of Iraq has aspirations and has a dream, and we respect that, even if we disagree with it. We live in one homeland and they are our partners,” Abadi said.

Iran, Turkey and Syria oppose the idea of an independent Kurdistan. In June, Tehran expressed opposition to a “unilateral” scheme, underlining the importance of maintaining the integrity and stability of Iraq and insisting that the Kurdistan region is part of the majority Arab country.

Turkey censured efforts to establish an independent Kurdistan as “a grave mistake.” Ankara said the potential of creating of an independent Kurdish state in its backyard would further embolden Turkey’s homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants toward an even stiffer confrontation with the government.

Several other countries in the region are concerned that such a referendum could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and possibly neighboring countries, diverting attention from the ongoing war against the Daesh Takfiri terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

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