TENSION flared yesterday following news that Iraq’s oil-rich northern region of Kirkuk will be included in next month’s referendum on Kurdish independence.
The provincial council voted in favour of inclusion in Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum next month, but just 24 of Kirkuk’s 41 council members took part, with 23 favouring the region being part of the independence vote. Arab and Turkmen council members boycotted the vote, branding it unconstitutional.
The multi-ethnic province lies outside the Kurdish administration in the north of the country, but Kurdish militia took control of the area in 2014 as Iraqi soldiers fled Isis fighters.
Iraqi Kurdistan gained autonomous status in a 1970 and its status was reconfirmed as an autonomous entity within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005.
Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi swiftly denounced the decision as “wrong” following a meeting with government ministers.
“Issues are not handled like this,” he said.
A statement from Iran, which is suppressing moves for Kurdish autonomy within its own borders, said the inclusion of Kirkuk was “wrong, provocative and unacceptable,” warning that the plans had already been rejected by the Iraqi government and United Nations.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already branded the move a “grave mistake” and warned that it threatens the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Sunni Iraqi MP Mohammed al-Karbouli said the inclusion of Kirkuk would trigger ethnic fighting and “extend the life” of Isis in the country.
“It’s a stark violation of the constitution and a determined move to confiscate the rights of the Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk.
The government should intervene to stop this violation,” he said.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government leader Masoud Barzani has long coveted Kirkuk, whose oil fields he sees as laying the economic foundations for an independent Kurdish state.
The independence vote was announced in June and will take place on September 25, but the US and other allies have urged Mr Barzani to postpone it, fearing it may destabilise the region.
But Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim insisted the vote “would definitely happen” as planned. “Those who ask for a postponement, including the US and Europe, should give us a time. Why don’t they provide a date?” he said.