Iraq's Kurds are sticking to a plan to hold an independence referendum on Sept 25, despite a US request to postpone it, a high-ranking Kurdish official told Reuters yesterday.
The United States and other Western nations are worried that the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and turn into another regional flashpoint. Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.
"The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change," said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Barzani to postpone the referendum.
Tillerson made the request in a phone call with Barzani on Thursday, Zebari said.
"On the issue of the postponement of the referendum, the President (Barzani) stated that the people of the Kurdistan Region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future," said a statement issued on Friday by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) presidency, after Tillerson's call.
The US State Department said in June it was concerned that the referendum will distract from "more urgent priorities" such as the defeat of Islamic State militants.
The Kurds have been seeking an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East, but their territory ended up split between modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Barzani, whose father led struggles against Baghdad in the 1960s and 1970s, told Reuters in July the Kurds would take responsibility for the expected 'yes' outcome of the referendum, and pursue its implementation through dialogue with Baghdad and regional powers to avoid conflict.