Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani insisted Friday that a controversial September 25 independence referendum for his autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq will go ahead, even as last-minute negotiations aimed to change his mind.
Iraq’s Kurds have faced mounting international pressure, including from neighboring Iran and Turkey, to call off the referendum that the UN Security Council has warned was potentially destabilizing.
“The referendum is no longer in my hands, nor is it in those of the (political) parties — it is in your hands,” Barzani told a large crowd at a football stadium in the regional capital of Arbil.
“We say that we are ready for serious open-minded dialogue with Baghdad, but after September 25, because now it is too late,” he said of Monday’s plebiscite.
On Saturday, the veteran Kurdish leader is to hold a news conference at which he is expected to announce definitively whether the vote will take place.
Negotiations are still going on aimed at persuading Barzani to postpone any referendum, according to officials close to the discussions.
“Nothing is definitive yet. Discussions are continuing to try to offer him serious guarantees that will convince him to change his mind,” said one official who did not wish to be identified.