Iraq’s Kurds have announced that the independence referendum will go ahead as planned on 25 September despite US demands to postpone the vote.
Kurdish leaders reiterated their intention to hold the referendum on the independence of the Kurdish region from Iraq. Over the weekend, head of the autonomous Kurdish region, Masrour Barzani, denied that he told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he agreed to delay the referendum.
Postponing the referendum is “absolutely impossible,” Barzani told the Saudi newspaper Okaz.
US officials are opposed to the September referendum believing it to be a destabilising move at a time when the fight against Daesh is ongoing. The United States and other Western governments fear the referendum could ignite a new conflict with Baghdad and perhaps with neighbouring countries, diverting attention from the war on Daesh and Syria.
A senior Kurdish official said that they will only consider postponing the referendum in exchange for financial and political concessions from the central government in Baghdad.
The referendum is said to be on the agenda of the US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who arrived in Iraq today on an undeclared visit. A US official confirmed that Mattis will try to convince Barzani to cancel the referendum.
According to the US official, Mattis may be able to use a weapons supply agreement as a bargaining chip. Last year the Pentagon signed an agreement with Kurdish Peshmerga forces to supply them with weapons and equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The memorandum of understanding is said to be reaching its expiration date which could be used by Mattis to persuade Barzani to delay the referendum.