Senior Iraqi-Kurd seeks to allay fears over independence bid
An Iraqi Kurdish leader has sought to allay concerns an independence referendum would hurt the fight against Islamic State, after the US State Department said the planned vote would distract from "more urgent priorities" like the defeat of the militant group.
Speaking in Washington, Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdish government's Security Council and son of President Massoud Barzani, said the government was committed to fighting "terrorism regardless of the political relationship with Baghdad".
Barzani cited the Kurds' role in fighting the Islamic State group. The Kurds play a major role in the US-backed campaign to defeat the ultra-hardline Sunni Islamist group that overran about a third of Iraq three years ago and also controls parts of Syria.
The September 25 vote could turn into another regional flashpoint and is likely to strain Iraq's frayed federal unity.
Neighbours Syria, Turkey and Iran, who also have sizable Kurdish populations, are all opposed to an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
Germany, a major European ally for the Iraqi Kurds, has said it was concerned the referendum could exacerbate tensions in Iraq.
"Those opponents who say this is not the right time, my question to them is when is the right time? ... When ISIS invaded parts of Iraq and attacked Kurdistan, once again we were told it's time of war so it's not the right time. Now that IS is on the verge of collapse we are again being told it is not the right time," he said.
While saying it appreciated the "legitimate aspirations" of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, the State Department said last month it supports a "unified, federal, stable and democratic Iraq" and had voiced its concerns to Kurdish authorities.
The Kurds have been seeking an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East, but their territory ended up split between modern-day Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.