Kurds' independence vote raises tension

Iraqi Kurds gathered in Erbil on Friday during an event to urge people to vote in Monday's independence referendum. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani insisted that the vote would be held as planned despite a warning from the UN Security Council tha
Iraqi Kurds gathered in Erbil on Friday during an event to urge people to vote in Monday's independence referendum. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani insisted that the vote would be held as planned despite a warning from the UN Security Council that it was "potentially destabilising".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ERBIL (Iraq) • Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani yesterday delayed a scheduled news conference on a controversial independence referendum he has called for tomorrow as international pressure mounts for a postponement.

There has been uncertainty about whether the vote will go ahead as Iraq's key allies, the United States and Iran, as well as powerful neighbour Turkey, have stepped up their opposition. "The news conference will take place on Sunday and the time and venue will be announced later," Mr Barzani's office said, without elaborating.

The Iraqi Kurdish leader insisted on Friday that the vote would be held as planned, despite a warning from the UN Security Council that it was "potentially destabilising".

"The referendum is no longer in my hands, nor is it in those of the parties - it is in your hands," Mr Barzani told a large crowd at a football stadium in Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region.

But behind-the-scenes negotiations are still taking place aimed at persuading Mr Barzani to postpone any referendum, according to officials close to the discussions.

Iran and Turkey both have sizeable Kurdish populations of their own and fear the vote will stoke separatist aspirations at home. The federal government in Baghdad is also opposed to the referendum, which it has called unconstitutional.

The Turkish Parliament was to convene later yesterday to vote on extending a mandate that authorises Turkish troop deployments to Iraq and Syria, and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim alluded to possible military moves. Asked if a cross-border operation was among the options, the Turkish Premier said: "Naturally, it is a question of timing as to when security, economic and security options are implemented. Developing conditions will determine that."

The Turkish army last Monday launched a military drill near the Habur border crossing to Iraq. Military sources said the drill was due to last until Tuesday, a day after the planned vote. The second stage of that operation was continuing with the participation of additional units, the Turkish armed forces said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Kurds' independence vote raises tension'. Print Edition | Subscribe