Iraq's Kirkuk council throws support behind region poll

The Kurdistan flag flies over Erbil's citadel

Kirkuk is an oil-rich province with a diverse ethnic and religious makeup comprised of Arabs, Turkmens, and Christians along with a Kurdish majority.

On March 28, Kirkuk's council voted to raise the Kurdish flag alongside the Iraqi flag on the building of the provincial council despite the withdrawal of Arab and Turkoman council members, who argued that the move is a pre-decision that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan.

Kirkuk province has always been at the center of disputes between Baghdad and the Kurds.

The ethnically mixed region is claimed by both the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.

There are also doubts about the vote among the five million Iraqi Kurds, with some calling for it to be postponed.

Speaking to journalists afterwards, Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim described the vote as a "historic event".

It further highlighted that September 25 referendum is a mistake itself, explaining that persistence on treading a "dangerous path" will neither serve the Middle East region nor Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has denounced the Kirkuk decision, with government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi saying the vote was "illegal and unconstitutional".

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Turan continued, "We totally reject the decision of the Kirkuk Brotherhood List, and we call on all citizens of the province to boycott the referendum in order to avoid the negative effects which would result".

The United States and Western governments including Germany oppose the Kurdish referendum, arguing it will undermine the fight against IS and create potentially explosive tensions with Baghdad.

Turkey and Iran are also opposed to the referendum, fearing it could inspire Kurdish separatists within their own borders.

The result of the Kurdish independence vote will not be accepted by the worldwide community, and will not contribute to the establishment of peace and stability at this critical juncture in the region, the Turkish Foreign Ministry pointed out.

Since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Kurds have sought to tip the demographics of the province back in their favor.

Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani, told Reuters on August 12 that Kurdish authorities were determined to hold the referendum on September 25 irrespective of all objections.

"The notion of holding a referendum in Kirkuk lacks legitimacy", he added.

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