Dr. Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to the Kurdistan Presidency. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The US suggested Kurdistan Region delay its planned referendum on independence until after Iraqi elections, due to be held in March, a proposal rejected by Kurdish leaders who do not want their historic vote tied to an uncertain Iraqi process.
“We didn't agree with this because it’s unclear whether or not Iraqi elections are going to be held. They are set to be held, but it’s not clear yet,” said Dr. Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to the Kurdistan Presidency, in an interview with Rudaw’s Hiwa Jamal.
Hussein noted that there are problems with the election law in Iraq and a debate is ongoing as to whether or not elections should be held on time. Thousands of protesters
have taken to Baghdad’s streets demanding electoral reform and the dissolution of Iraq’s electoral body.
According to Hussein, the Americans’ concern is that the Kurdistan referendum could affect the result of the Iraqi elections.
“But we don’t see it this way. This is the decision of the nation of Kurdistan. And now the timing is set. The decision is made.”
The discussions between Kurdish and US officials took place in Washington last month when Hussein and Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region’s Security Council, met with several White House officials.
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 on September 25.
Western allies in the war against ISIS have expressed concern that a Kurdistan referendum could detract from efforts to defeat the extremist group.
According to Hussein, US officials have said they would not oppose a referendum “if there is negotiation with Baghdad. Negotiations with Baghdad should start. And they don’t have a problem with it if we reach a result with Baghdad.”
Following Hussein’s and Barzani’s visit to the US capital, former Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faili asserted that American officials had told the Kurdish delegation that they are against the referendum and independence.
Hussein denied this, saying that Faili cannot speak on behalf of the Americans.
“The truth was spoken by the US State Department’s spokesperson. They have a problem with the timing of it. But they didn't reject the referendum. I don’t believe any democratic country can reject a referendum, which is a democratic mechanism. But they didn't support the timing of it. They said this to us when we were there and declared this themselves too.”