Kurdish parliament votes to move ahead with referendum

A picture taken on September 15, 2017 shows a general view of Kurdish MPs sitting during a session of Kurdistan's regional parliament in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (AFP / SAFIN HAMED)
Updated 15 September 2017

Kurdish parliament votes to move ahead with referendum

IRBIL, Iraq: The Kurdish region’s parliament voted Friday evening to approve the holding of a controversial referendum on support for independence Sept. 25, according to broadcasts of the session by local television. Kurdish leaders have come under increasing pressure from key ally the United States, as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran, to call off the vote fearing it could plunge the region into greater instability as the fight against the Daesh group grinds to a close.
Earlier Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country plans to hold a high-level security meeting on Sept. 22 to decide what response to take over the Kurdish referendum, accused leaders of Iraq’s autonomous region of “serious political inaptitude” for going ahead with plans to hold the vote.
Also Friday, Iraq’s Prime Minister received a call from his Turkish counterpart who underscored his rejection of the Kurdish vote, according to a statement released by Haider Al-Abadi’s office Friday evening.
Iraq’s Kurdish region plans to hold a referendum on support for independence from Iraq on Sept. 25 in three governorates that make up their autonomous region, and in disputed areas like Kirkuk that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad.
The planned vote has escalated tensions with Baghdad as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran — countries home to sizeable Kurdish populations.
During the call between the Turkish and Iraqi leaders, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim expressed concerns that the vote is a danger to “the security of the region and the safety of its people,” and “affirmed Turkey’s support for all the steps taken by the Iraqi government to preserve the unity of Iraq,” the statement from Al-Abadi’s office said.
Just a year ago relations between Baghdad and Ankara were at a significant low with Al-Abadi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trading schoolyard insults. The scuffle was sparked by the presence of some 500 Turkish troops at a base north of Mosul. Baghdad said the troops were there without permission and called on them to withdraw. Ankara refused, insisting they would play a role in retaking Mosul.
Thursday, a senior US official announced that Brussels, Washington, Paris, London and Baghdad had cooperatively developed an alternative plan to the contentious referendum. While providing no details on the alternative, Brett McGurk, US special presidential envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition said at a news conference in Irbil he had presented it to Kurdish leaders.
“There’s an alternative on the table. It’s decision time,” he said.
The Kurdish region’s parliament decision Friday appears to be a rebuff of that alternative.
Iraq’s Kurdish region has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the US imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War. It has its own parliament and armed forces, flies its own flag, and has been a close US ally against IS and other militant groups.


US declares Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land 'consistent' with international law

Updated 31 min 51 sec ago

US declares Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land 'consistent' with international law

  • The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparked anger among Palestinians
  • The move is the latest by the Trump administration seen as favoring the Israeli position over the Palestinians

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade position that they were “inconsistent with international law.”

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparked anger among Palestinians who say the settlements are the main barrier to their future state.

The shift in US policy follows the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem last year, a move seen as undermining Palestinian claims to the eastern half of the city as a future capital.

Pompeo said US statements about the settlements on the West Bank - which Israel captured during a 1967 war - had been inconsistent, saying Democrat President Jimmy Carter in 1978 found they were not consistent with international law and Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981 said he did not view them as inherently illegal.

“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, drawing criticism from a senior Palestinian figure even before his announcement.

“Another blow to international law, justice & peace,” Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, said on Twitter ahead of Pompeo’s statement.

The announcement marked the third major instance in which the Trump administration has sided with Israel and against stances taken by the Palestinians and Arab states even before unveiling its long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

In 2017 Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before opening the embassy in the city. US policy had previously been that the status of Jerusalem was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.

In March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in a boost for Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic land.

Trump's move might have been designed to help Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power. Israeli politics is deadlocked after two inconclusive elections this year. Former military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party emerged neck and neck with Netanyahu following a September vote, and both leaders have struggled to put together a ruling coalition.

*With Reuters