IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The Kurdish region’s parliament voted Friday evening to approve the holding of a controversial referendum on support for independence Sept. 25, according to broadcasts of the session by local television. Kurdish leaders have come under increasing pressure from key ally the United States, as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran, to call off the vote fearing it could plunge the region into greater instability as the fight against the Islamic State group grinds to a close.
Earlier Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country plans to hold a high-level security meeting on Sept. 22 to decide what response to take over the Kurdish referendum, accused leaders of Iraq’s autonomous region of “serious political inaptitude” for going ahead with plans to hold the vote.
Also Friday, Iraq’s Prime Minister received a call from his Turkish counterpart who underscored his rejection of the Kurdish vote, according to a statement released by Haider al-Abadi’s office Friday evening.
Iraq’s Kurdish region plans to hold a referendum on support for independence from Iraq on Sept. 25 in three governorates that make up their autonomous region, and in disputed areas like Kirkuk that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad.
The planned vote has escalated tensions with Baghdad as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran — countries home to sizeable Kurdish populations.
During the call between the Turkish and Iraqi leaders, prime minister Binali Yildirim expressed concerns that the vote is a danger to “the security of the region and the safety of its people,” and “affirmed Turkey’s support for all the steps taken by the Iraqi government to preserve the unity of Iraq,” the statement from al-Abadi’s office said.
Just a year ago relations between Baghdad and Ankara were at a significant low with al-Abadi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trading schoolyard insults. The scuffle was sparked by the presence of some 500 Turkish troops at a base north of Mosul. Baghdad said the troops were there without permission and called on them to withdraw. Ankara refused, insisting they would play a role in retaking Mosul.
Thursday, a senior U.S. official announced that Brussels, Washington, Paris, London and Baghdad had cooperatively developed an alternative plan to the contentious referendum. While providing no details on the alternative, Brett McGurk, U.S. special presidential envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition said at a news conference in Irbil he had presented it to Kurdish leaders.
“There’s an alternative on the table. It’s decision time,” he said.
The Kurdish region’s parliament decision Friday appears to be a rebuff of that alternative.
Iraq’s Kurdish region has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the U.S. imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War. It has its own parliament and armed forces, flies its own flag, and has been a close U.S. ally against IS and other militant groups.
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