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US urges Iraqi Kurdistan to call off independence vote

AFP | Washington |

The United States has urged Iraqi Kurdistan to call off plans for an independence referendum later in September, warning the vote was distracting from the fight against the Islamic State group.

Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers voted earlier on Friday to hold the referendum on September 25, in the face of bitter opposition from Baghdad and protests from neighbouring Iran and Turkey, which fear it will fan separatism among their own Kurdish minorities.

“The United States has repeatedly emphasised to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilise the liberated areas,” the White House said a statement.

“Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilising,” it added.

“We therefore call on the Kurdistan Regional Government to call off the referendum and enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad, which the United States has repeatedly indicated it is prepared to facilitate.”

Regional president Massud Barzani, who set in motion the plans for a referendum, has kept open the option of postponing it under American pressure.

Washington opposes the referendum on the grounds that it would weaken Arab-Kurdish joint military operations, which have helped send the IS group into retreat in both Iraq and war-torn Syria.

The United States has proposed unspecified “alternatives” to the vote, to which Barzani has pledged to give a rapid response.