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Kurdish delegation in Baghdad for last minute talks

Top Kurdish advisor insists referendum will go ahead amid mounting pressure to postpone the vote

Gulf News

Dubai: A Kurdistan Regional Government delegation headed to Baghdad on Saturday to conduct dialogue with the Iraqi government in tandem with the KRG’s planned independence referendum on Monday, a Kurdish official said.

“The delegation will discuss the referendum but the referendum is still happening,” Hoshyar Zebari, a top adviser to Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, told Reuters.

“We said we would talk to Baghdad before, during and after the referendum.”

The KRG has said the vote is meant to give its autonomous territory a legitimate mandate to achieve independence from Iraq through dialogue with Baghdad and neighbouring powers Turkey and Iran.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Saturday delayed a scheduled news conference on a controversial independence referendum he has called for next week as pressure mounts for a postponement.

There has been uncertainty about whether the vote will go ahead as Iraq’s key allies the United States and Iran, as well as powerful neighbour Turkey, have stepped up their opposition.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned on Saturday that Ankara’s actions in response to the planned referendum would have “economic and security dimensions”.

“The steps will be taken in close cooperation with Iraq, Iran and other neighbouring countries,” he said.

When asked whether a cross-border operation was among the options, Yildirim said “naturally” but “it is a question of timing and will be based on developing conditions.”

Turkey has repeatedly voiced opposition to the referendum, urging it to cancel the poll.

Ankara fears the vote could stoke separatist aspirations among its own sizeable Kurdish minority as it continues to fight Kurdish militants in its southeast.

Yildirim was speaking ahead of an extraordinary parliament session Saturday to discuss the extension of an existing mandate to use Turkish troops abroad in Syria and Iraq.

The mandate was first approved by parliament in October 2014 and has been renewed every year, allowing military action in Turkey’s two southern neighbours against Daesh and other groups deemed by Ankara to be terror organisations.

Turkey launched a military drill featuring tanks close to the Iraqi border last week, and on Saturday the Turkish armed forces said the “second phase of the military exercise continued with the participation of additional troops”.

On his part, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash took to Twitter to weigh in on the issue.

“Federalism serves as a better alternative than separation,” he said, and offered the UAE as a model example.

He said the UAE supported a single and united Iraq.

“Protecting a unified Iraq is beneficial to a region suffering from division and fragmentation,” he wrote.

He said that political dialogue was necessary to address concerns, fulfill ambtions and create a stronger partnership.