“Kurdistan respects other ethnicities of these areas and we will conduct a transparent referendum and for this we ask the UN to help,” Barzani told Nikolay Evtimov Mladenov, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI). Photo: KRP.org
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish President Massoud Barzani on Sunday called on the United Nations to help arrange a referendum in Kirkuk, to decide whether the oil-rich city in northern Iraq will formally become part of the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
“Kurdistan respects other ethnicities of these areas and we will conduct a transparent referendum and for this we ask the UN to help,” Barzani told Nikolay Evtimov Mladenov, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).
Kirkuk has been among the so-called “disputed territories” that Erbil and Baghdad have quibbled over for more than a decade. The fate of Kirkuk and the other disputed lands was supposed to be decided in a 2007 referendum that never took place.
But Kurdish Peshmerga forces moved into Kirkuk and other disputed areas of the same province -- as well as in Nineveh and Diyala -- after the Iraqi army largely collapsed when jihadi-led insurgents began an advance across Iraq nearly three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the ISIS declared an Islamic state Sunday that stretches from the provinces of Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq, with their commander Abubakr al-Baghdadi named the caliph.
In the predominantly-Turkmen village of Bashir south of Kirkuk on Sunday ISIS fighters repulsed two attacks by the Shiite Badr militia, killing and wounding more than 50 militiamen and capturing 20.
In Kirkuk last week, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said his visit was “to meet with military, security and political parties and about how to protect Kirkuk and how to make it an example of ethnic and religious coexistence.”
He pledged that Peshmerga forces would protect everyone in Kirkuk, not just Kurds.
A statement on the website of the Kurdistan Region presidency quoted Barzani telling the UN envoy that Erbil could not pay the price for the wrong policies of Baghdad, and that due to the central government’s mistakes and failures terrorists had now become neighbors of Kurdistan.
With Iraq embroiled in a full-fledged Sunni insurgency, the Kurds have emerged as key players in any plan to stabilize the country and preventing it from splintering into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish portions.
International leaders, who have included US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British counterpart William Hague, traveled to Erbil last week to seek Kurdish support for an inclusive emergency government in Baghdad.
During his visit to Kurdistan, Hague commented on his Facebook page that “as we work together to help address the current crisis, we will also work to strengthen and deepen our wider relationship.”
In its first session since the latest hostilities in Iraq the Kurdish parliament established a referendum committee, underscoring the seriousness with which the Kurds want to settle the Kirkuk issue, which would be a leap toward realizing their aspirations of independence.
Iraq’s Kurds have always seen Kirkuk as the capital of a future homeland.
But Kurdish independence has had few supporters in the West, with Washington among the opponents.
A rare support came Sunday from Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who called for the establishment of an independent Kurdistan as part of a broader alliance with moderate forces across the region.
"We should... support the Kurdish aspiration for independence," Netanyahu told a think-tank in Tel Aviv. He called the Kurds "a nation of fighters (who) have proved political commitment and are worthy of independence.”
Kurdistan and Israel maintain quiet relations, with Israeli leaders often praising the Kurds, many of whom see the Jewish state as a model for their own future homeland.