President of Iraqi Kurdistan says independence vote is due to failure of unity

Masoud Barzani tells states asking to postpone referendum to offer an alternative

An Iraqi Kurdish man shows posters at a shop bearing images of Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani and urging people to vote ahead of the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 7, 2017. 
Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will hold a historic referendum on statehood in September 2017, despite opposition to independence from Baghdad and possibly beyond.  / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED
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President of Iraqi Kurdistan insists that the independence referendum is a result of failure of unity between Baghdad and Erbil.

Masoud Barzani said, "Holding the referendum is the right and legitimate choice for the citizens of Kurdistan. We have tried to provide the opportunity or the adequate amount of time to build a real partnership in Baghdad. Unfortunately we have failed," Mr Barzani told Al Arabiya. "This is why we had to take this decision."

His comments come as pressure increases on Iraq’s Kurdistan region to either postpone or cancel the poll scheduled to take place on September 25. Neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Iran, as well as the United States have urged Erbil to postpone the poll.

Mr Barzani said that that those asking for a postponement should "offer us an alternative."

The Kurdish president insists the goal now is to build a new relationship with Baghdad. "We have failed at building a partnership so we must now work on being good neighbours," he said.


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Erbil- the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan — has tried to avoid resorting to independence from Baghdad's central government. "The truth is we have reached a point where there is no room for another choice,"Mr Barzani said.

In 2003, Baghdad and Erbil agreed to form a national, civil, democratic and confederate state. "But today we live in the shadow of a sectarian religious state," Mr Barzani stressed. Baghdad was guilty of many constitutional infringements, he added.

"The main point that we agreed upon -in 2003- was that there should be a true and legitimate partnership between both sides. This was terminated because Baghdad eliminated the principle of partnership and did not adhere to the constitution."

Baghdad's central government withheld budget payments to the Kurdistan region in 2014, ostensibly because the Kurds began selling crude oil independently of the federal government.

Erbil says, "The oil sale came only after they made the provincial budget cuts."

Mr Barzani also refers to the non implementation of Article 140 as one of the main reasons for the referendum. The article was created to end territorial disputes between Baghdad and Erbil by stipulating that the administrative statuses of these areas should be determined with referendums by the end of 2007.

"The Article was completely ignored by Baghdad" said Mr Barzani.

Oil-rich Kirkuk province is one of the disputed territories between Baghdad's central government and Erbil. Last week, the province announced it will participate in Iraqi Kurdistan's independence vote — even though it is not part of the Kurdistan region.

The move sparked tensions between Kirkuk’s different ethnic leaders and angered the authorities in Baghdad.


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Meanwhile, Mr Barzani insists that negotiations with Baghdad will continue even after the votes are cast and results are announced. “Negotiation will continue with Baghdad even after the results are announced. We condemn any act of violence so we will continue to negotiate with Baghdad on all the issues presented."