WASHINGTON, United States –The United States thinks that the Kurdish referendum should not take place in September as the process seems to be happening in a "fast timeline", also warning that the referendum in the disputed areas would be destabilizing, the US Envoy to the Global Coalition against ISIS has said.
Asked by a Rudaw reporter whether the United States is against the timing of the Kurdish referendum scheduled for September 25, or against the process altogether, McGurk stated in Washington Thursday that they think the timing is not right, and that they urge dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad.
"So I spoke to this in Baghdad last week. I saw Prime Minister Abadi, I saw President Barzani, we consulted with everybody. We do not think the referendum should happen in September," McGurk said in a news briefing after a Small Group meeting of the Global Coalition in Washington.
"We think that under the Iraqi constitution there is an important process of dialogue that has to take place. And having a referendum on such a fast timeline, particularly in disputed areas, would be, we think, significantly destabilizing and we’ve made those views very clear. So we are in consultations with all parties."
Kurdish officials, including President Masoud Barzani have said on more than an occasion that the US has concerns regarding the timing of the referendum, as the US administration had asked Erbil to postpone it until after the general elections in Iraq that is expected to take place in April, 2018. The Kurdish government has refused to change the date of the referendum, mainly because the Iraqi election may not take place on time.
Responding to questions about the timing of the vote, President Barzani demanded on Tuesday, "You tell us, when is the right time?"
Those who oppose the timing have failed to provide "the right time" for a vote on the right to self-determination, he challenged as he addressed European lawmakers in Brussels.
A high-level Iraqi delegation headed by the Iraqi oil minister Jabar Ali al-Louaibi visited Erbil on Wednesday and met with the Kurdish government, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.
The visit, the first since Erbil announced its plans to hold the independence referendum, came amid outstanding issues between the two sides, mainly related to the border and oil, as well as the issue of disputed areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, that will take part in the referendum.
McGurk said that the visit by the Iraqi delegation was a "good sign" and, he said, Erbil and Baghdad discussed "some of these difficult issues," in's Wednesday meeting.
A statement published by the Kurdish government following the meeting did not mention the issue of the referendum.
The visit by the Iraqi government delegation is said to have been made upon the request of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The two sides showed that they are ready to “open a new chapter and continue dialogue to resolve their problems,” the statement by Erbil read.
The statement added that they “also discussed the formation of a joint committee to further and reorganize the mechanism of the cooperation between Erbil and Baghdad in the fields of oil, electricity in such a way that it takes into consideration the interests of all the Iraqi people.”
"I think the delegation that came from Baghdad to Erbil yesterday to talk about some of these very difficult issues is a positive sign. That’s the type of dialogue I think we need to see," McGurk said of the high-level meeting in Erbil.
"But right now ISIS is not finished," the US envoy added. "We have to be very clear about that. They’re in Tal Afar, just south of the Kurdistan region. They’re in Hawija, just south of Kirkuk. The Hawija operation will be very, very complex. It’ll involve Iraqi Security Forces, it’ll involve Peshmerga. So this is not the time to hold a referendum in these areas, and I think we’ve made that very clear and I think we’ve – right now I think there’s a dialogue process going on and we’re going to leave it – we’re going to leave it there."
The US appreciates the “legitimate aspirations” of Kurds, but it supports Iraqi unity, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters after the Kurdistan Region announced the vote will be held in September.