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Saudi Arabia urges Barzani to call off Kurdish independence referendum

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani. (Reuters)
Turkish tanks during a military exercise near the Turkish-Iraqi border in Silopi, Turkey, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia urged Kurdish leaders on Wednesday to call off next week’s planned independence referendum in the interests of Iraq’s stability, security, unity and sovereignty.
The referendum “may result in negative repercussions” for the fight against terrorist organizations, and “it would be best to avoid new crises,” a Saudi government statement said.
The Kingdom “looks forward to the wisdom of President Masoud Barzani in not holding a referendum … in order to spare Iraq and the region more risks,” and “calls upon the parties concerned to engage in dialogue in order to achieve the interests of the Iraqi people.”
All parties should adhere to the agreements they had signed, and to the provisions of the Iraqi constitution, the statement said.
The Iraqi prime minister Haider Al-Abadi insists that the referendum is unconstitutional, and the Iraqi Supreme Court has ordered it to be suspended. “The referendum is rejected, whether today or in the future, in the Kurdistan region within the 2003 borders or in the disputed areas,” Al-Abadi said.
Al-Abadi also hinted at a possible military intervention in Kirkuk, which is home to diverse communities including Arabs and Turkmen who oppose the vote.
“If a Kirkuk citizen is exposed to danger, it’s our legitimate duty to impose security,” he said
Amid growing international pressure on the Kurds to call off the vote, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to impose sanctions against the Kurdistan Region. Turkey, home to the largest Kurdish population in the region, has warned that any breakup of Iraq or Syria could lead to a global conflict, and is due to prepare a formal response on Friday.
The Turkish cabinet and security council would discuss Ankara’s options and “put forward their own stance on what kind of sanctions we can impose, or if we will,” Erdogan said in New York, where he is attending the UN General Assembly.
Nevertheless, Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government, remains determined and defiant. Irbil’s union with Baghdad had come to an end, he said, and he called for Iraq and the Kurdistan Region to be “kind neighbors” instead. There was no other solution than to go through with the referendum, he said.
Barzani has said a “yes” vote would not trigger an immediate declaration of independence, but rather kick-start “serious discussions” with Baghdad.

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