Iraqi Kurds to vote on independence referendum in September
Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will hold a historic referendum on statehood in September, its presidency said on Wednesday, despite opposition to independence from Baghdad.
The decision to set the date for September 25 was made at a meeting attended by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and representatives of the region's political parties, the presidency said in a statement.
"It will be on that day when the people of the Kurdistan region, as well as those living in the disputed areas, will cast their votes on whether they accept independence," it declared.
Often described as the world's largest stateless people after being denied a country in the wake of World War I, Kurds are spread between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
The referendum sets the stage for what may be Iraq's first major crisis after the end of the operation to recapture Mosul from Islamic State militants, which temporarily united rival Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces that will still be deployed in close proximity in the north.
Iraqi Kurds largely support the idea of an independent state, but a yes vote would only be the start of a contentious project that would face major internal and external challenges.
The region is made up of three provinces that are run by an autonomous regional government and protected by their own security services, providing the basis for a potential state.
But there are major political and economic obstacles to Iraqi Kurdish independence.
The presidency statement said the referendum would include "areas of Kurdistan outside the administration of the region", which were termed "disputed areas" in English.
This refers to swathes of northern territory that are claimed by both Kurdistan and Baghdad, including the key oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Opposition in Baghdad to Iraqi Kurdistan becoming independent would become even greater if the region tried to take disputed territory along with it.
Iraqi Kurdistan, like the rest of the country, depends almost entirely on revenue from crude sales to provide government funds.