Iraq Kurd MPs to vote on independence referendum on Friday

IRAQ: The Iraqi Kurdish parliament prepared to vote on Friday on holding an independence referendum while keeping the door open for a last-minute compromise in the face of mounting opposition from Baghdad.

The parliament in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, northern Iraq, was to vote at 1600 GMT on a motion giving “a legal framework” to the September 25 referendum that has also stirred protests from neighbouring states, especially Turkey.

Washington, for its part, opposes the referendum on the grounds that it would weaken Arab-Kurdish joint military operations which have helped to send the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group into retreat in both Iraq and war-torn Syria.

The United States has proposed unspecified “alternatives” to which Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani has pledged to give a rapid response.

“If they have a stronger alternative to the referendum, the Kurdish leadership will look at it, but if they want to postpone the vote with no alternatives, we won’t,” Barzani, who set the referendum date in June, said on Thursday.

The parliament session will be its first in two years, while Barzani’s mandate as president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq officially expired in 2015.

The Kurdish leadership, made up of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraq’s former president Jalal Talabani, have maintained that the three-year-old battle to drive back IS has made it impossible to hold fresh elections.

Two opposition parties — the independent Goran, which has 24 seats in the 111-seat parliament, and Jamaa Islamiya, which is close to Iran and holds six seats — said they would boycott the session.

The session in Arbil will follow two anti-referendum votes which passed earlier this week in the national parliament in Baghdad, both of which were boycotted by Kurdish legislators.

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