In the Kurdistan Region and abroad, pro-referendum rallies continue to draw thousands of supporters. Here President Barzani addressed a rally in Duhok on the weekend. Photo: Hemin Hawrami/Twitter
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Global opposition to the Kurdistan independence referendum continues to strengthen just one week before the historic vote with statements opposed to the vote coming from the UN, Spain, and France.
The head of the United Nations added his voice to the international chorus opposing the timing of the referendum.
Antonio Guterres warned against detracting from the war with ISIS and the reconstruction of war-torn areas that is necessary to allow displaced Iraqis and refugees to return to their homes.
“The Secretary-General respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and considers that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise,” read a statement from his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric on Sunday.
The UN chief urged “patience and restraint” while offering its support for the negotiation process.
The Spanish government, facing its own secessionist movement in Catalonia, took a much harsher stance and called the referendum "illegal" under the Iraqi constitution. Madrid said it is "concerned" and supports a "democratic" Iraq.
"This referendum is illegal under the Iraqi Constitution of 2005, which received widespread popular support," stated the foreign ministry in Madrid.
Spain is member of the international coalition to defeat ISIS, whose US envoy has called the timing of the referendum ill-advised and ill-timed.
"[The referendum] will only serve to exacerbate division at a time in which all the people of Iraq should join forces to defeat Daesh [ISIS] once and for all, restore stability and re-build the country to the benefit of the whole population," read the statement from Madrid.
The government in Madrid is facing its own internal turmoil, as the regional government in Catalonia aims to hold a binding-referendum on independence on October 1.
"Spain backs a united, democratic and stable Iraq in which all legitimate demands are the object of constructive dialogue within the framework of respect for the Constitution and integrity of the country," added the statement from Spain, expressing concern over the Kurdistan government’s decision to proceed with the vote.
France also expressed opposition to the referendum, though in more measured tones. Speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the referendum an “inappropriate initiative,” according to French media.
“There are very important elements in the Iraqi Constitution on autonomy. These must be respected, validated and secured in the context of dialogue between Baghdad and Kurdistan,” Le Drian said.
Kurdistan considers France a close ally and the two enjoy notably friendly relations. During a visit to Erbil in August, Le Drian said his country, a member of the anti-ISIS coalition, had supported Kurdistan in the time of war “and will be with Kurdistan in the time of peace,” according to a statement issued by the Kurdistan presidency after the visit.
Kurdistan has refused to bow to pressure to postpone the vote, maintaining that no sufficient alternative has been presented for the vote that will go ahead as planned on September 25.
“The process of the referendum will continue because the suggestions that have been presented until now don’t include the necessary guarantees that could meet the satisfaction and conviction of our people,” read a statement from the High Referendum Council issued on Sunday that noted talks with the international community will continue “with a constructive and responsible spirit” to achieve the rights of the people to statehood.
In the Kurdistan Region, pro-referendum rallies continue to draw thousands of supporters.