Kurds stick with independence vote, but Iraqi PM says will take 'necessary measures' to protect unity

Voters head to the polls in an independence referendum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, ignoring the threats and fears of further instability.

ERBIL/BAGHDAD, IRAQ (REUTERS, AFP) - Iraq's Kurds will go ahead with a referendum on independence on Monday (Sept 25), Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani told a news conference.

Iraq's Kurds will seek talks with the Shi'ite-led central government to implement the expected "yes" outcome of the referendum, even if they take two years or more, he said.

"We will never go back to the failed partnership" with Baghdad, Mr Barzani said, adding Iraq has become a "theocratic, sectarian state" and not the democratic one that was supposed to be built after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Mr Barzani dismissed the concern of Iraq's powerful neighbours, Iran and Turkey that the vote could destabilise the region, committing to respecting the laws on international boundaries" and not seek to redraw region's borders.

"Only independence can reward the mothers of our martyrs," he said, reminding the international community of the role played by the Kurds in the war on Islamic State (ISIS).

"Only through independence we can secure our future."

However, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday that Baghdad would take the "necessary measures" to protect Iraqi unity, speaking on the eve of the referendum.

"To take a unilateral decision affecting the unity of Iraq and its security, and the security of the region, with a referendum on separation is unconstitutional and against civil peace. We will take the necessary measures to preserve the unity of the country," Mr Abadi said in a televised address.