British Foreign Secretary and former mayor of London Boris Johnson at a teashop in Erbil in January 2015. Photo: Official
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary who previously had urged further bilateral relations with Kurdistan Region and advocated for the further arming of Peshmerga fighters, says now is not the time for the region to hold a referendum on independence.
“We understand the aspirations of the Kurdish people and continue to support them politically, culturally and economically within Iraq,” British FM Boris Johnson announced in a statement. “But a referendum at this time will distract from the more urgent priorities of defeating Daesh, stabilising liberated areas and addressing the long-term political issues that led to Daesh’s rise.”
In previous visits to the Kurdistan Region, Johnson has been photographed at Erbil’s iconic Machko teashop with a Kurdish Jamana headband and lying in a trench near the Peshmerga frontlines aiming a Kalashnikov.
“I was watching some footage of a huge battle where they were using a lot of German-made equipment to take out about 17 suicide bomb vehicles, you wonder what it is that is preventing us from giving them that kind of weaponry ourselves,” he said in 2015.
Kurdish officials have long complained that the Kurdistan Region doesn’t receive its share of promised foreign arms because of being tied to Baghdad.
“Any referendum or political process towards independence must be agreed with the Government of Iraq in Baghdad,” read Monday’s statement from British ministry.
“The UK supports a stable, democratic and unified Iraq, one that is able to provide the security, jobs and healthcare and education all Iraqis want and deserve”
The UK foreign ministry urges “all parties to engage in dialogue to deliver a better future for their people on the basis of the Iraqi Constitution.”
The UK’s Ambassador to Iraq Frank Baker said during a visit to the Kurdish city of Halabja on Monday that “the government of the United Kingdom does not believe that now is the right time to hold the referendum for the Kurdish Region.”
The Kurdistan Region will hold a referendum on independence on September 25. The vote will also be held in Kurdistani areas, including Shingal and Kirkuk, regions considered part of Kurdistan by Erbil after they came under the Kurdish government’s control during the war against ISIS. Baghdad also claims these areas, which have been called disputed as defined by Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution.