US urges Iraq's Kurds to call off referendum
The United States on Friday strongly urged northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to call off a controversial referendum on independence from Baghdad.
The announcement comes hours after the KRG parliament voted to hold the poll next week despite opposition from the central government and Iraq's neighbours.
Instead of pursuing the vote, the KRG should begin "serious and sustained dialogue" with Iraq's central government, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
KRG President Masoud Barzani said on Thursday he could consider an offer to delay the vote.
The non-binding referendum is planned to see residents in provinces controlled by the KRG vote on independence from Baghdad on Sept. 25.
"The referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilise the liberated areas," she said, adding that "holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilising."
The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is among the contested areas that the vote is planned to take in.
The Iraqi government believes that holding the referendum would violate the terms of the country's constitution.
Turkey, too, rejects it, saying the region's stability depends on the unity of Iraq and the maintenance of its territorial integrity.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday his country will hold a high-level security meeting on Sept. 22 to decide what response to take over a planned Kurdish referendum on independence.
Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population and is battling Kurdish insurgents, opposes the Kurds' moves toward independence and has voiced strong backing to Iraq's territorial integrity.
It is also concerned that the scheduled referendum comprises disputed areas such has Kirkuk, which is home to Turkmen, Arabs, Kurds and Christians.