Iraqi leader Haider al-Abadi warns of possible 'military intervention' if Kurdish referendum descends into violence
Iraq's military is prepared to intervene if the Kurdish independence referendum if fighting breaks out, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned on Saturday.
Abadi told the Associated Press that if Iraq's population is "threatened by the use of force outside the law, then we will intervene militarily".
Despite opposition from Baghdad, Iraq's Kurdish region is pushing ahead with an independence referendum that is set to take place on 25 September. The vote is being held in the three governorates that make up the Kurdish autonomous region, as well as Kurdish-controlled areas that are disputed by Baghdad.
"If you challenge the constitution and if you challenge the borders of Iraq and the borders of the region, this is a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders as well, which is a very dangerous escalation," Abadi said.
Kurdish leaders say they hope that the referendum will force Baghdad to the negotiating table, where independence can be discussed in earnest. Abadi, however, has said that the vote with complicate matters further.
"It will make it harder and more difficult," he said, while balancing out his scepticism by saying that he will "never close the door" to negotiations.
In their recent push for independence, Iraqi-Kurds have found few allies, with the US and UN calling on the region to abandon the referendum.
Washington, a key ally of the Kurds, urged Kurdish leaders to "enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad".
"Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilising," the White House statement read.
Abadi's warning of military action comes as tensions have flared in the run up to the referendum.
Baghdad has members of the Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilisation Forces] militia deployed around Kirkuk, however the Kurdish region's president, Masoud Barzani, has repeatedly threatened violence if Baghdad loyalists enter disputed regions.