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Iraqi prime minister says Kurdish referendum will lead the country into "dark tunnel"

UK urging Baghdad and Erbil to find common ground on independence days ahead of vote, Alistair Burt tells The National
An Iraqi Kurdish man decorates a car with the Kurdish flags ahead of the upcoming independence referendum in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 7, 2017. AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED

An independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdish region will lead the country “into a dark tunnel” and should be called off, the Iraqi prime minister said on Thursday.

Haidar Al Abadi’s comments came as pressure grows on Kurdistan's regional government to postpone the referendum to take place on September 25.

“I call upon the Kurdish leaders to cancel the referendum as the vote will take us into a dark tunnel,” Haidar Al Abadi said in Baghdad late on Wednesday.

"Kurdistan's referendum is unconstitutional and separation will only be permitted through national consensus."

Mr Al Abadi stressed that the vote needs to be in line with Iraq's constitution to maintain security and stability within the country.

"An official referendum should include the votes of all Iraqis without any discrimination, the Kurds cannot act unilaterally on this decision," he said.

Mr Al Abadi added that the relationship between Baghdad and Erbil is determined by the Iraqi constitution and that the Kurds have so far accomplished great achievements within a unified Iraq.

In response the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani insisted that the vote will go ahead as planned. He told Al Arabiya "the referendum was the result of the failure of Iraqi Kurdish partnership".


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Iran, Turkey and the US also oppose the poll. They believe the referendum will distract from the fight against ISIL, while also fearing that the move could further destabilise Iraq and the wider region.

Ankara and Tehran both have a sizeable Kurdish population and view any independence moves by the Kurds in Iraq as a domestic threat.

Meanwhile, the UK is insisting that Baghdad and Erbil should reach a consensus ahead of a referendum.

Alistair Burt, the UK minister of state for the foreign office told The National that the UK is "urging both Kurds and Baghdad to search for common ground and avoid any action which makes the future of Iraq more difficult."

The UK believes in a "unified Iraq and is continuing to urge negotiation between Kurds and Baghdad pre September 25," Mr Burt said.

The Kurds are viewed as the world's largest stateless people, with most spread between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. It is only in Iraq where they have achieved a recognised autonomy.

Updated: September 7, 2017 07:58 PM