UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) meeting with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani (R) in Erbil on Thursday evening. Photo: UN
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdish government will hold a referendum on independence at “the earliest time,” Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani told the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres in their meeting on Thursday. He called on the UN to show “understanding” on this matter, Hemin Hawrami, a senior assistant to the president, told Rudaw.
“The President of the Kurdistan Region told the Secretary General of the United Nations: we want you to hear it from us that we will hold a referendum at the earliest time, and we hope that you will show understanding on this demand of ours,” Hawrami said.
“We would like the UN to hear it from us directly that this issue is vital for the Kurdistan Region,” Hawrami stressed.
The Kurdistan presidency confirmed in a statement that the issue had been raised during the meeting. “About the future of Kurdistan Region President Barzani emphasized that in the near future, a referendum will be held so that the world will be aware of the wish and the decision of the people of Kurdistan regarding its future,” the statement read.
Hawrami repeated the official line that Kurdistan may not declare independence immediately after the referendum, but emphasized the vote would be considered a mandate from the Kurdish people.
The head of the United Nations arrived in Erbil Thursday evening and was greeted at the airport by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.
Hawrami said that the two have discussed a range of other issues, in particular the ongoing Mosul offensive, the importance of protecting the lives of civilians in Mosul, and also the future relations of Kurdistan with the rest of the world.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Kurdistan for the generosity they show those who seek shelter and safety,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, according to a UN tweet.
The Kurdistan Region has sheltered 155,117 Iraqis displaced by the Mosul offensive, Hoshang Mohamed, director of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Joint Crisis Coordination Centre, told Rudaw earlier this week. Mohamed announced on Tuesday that the four camps in Erbil province are full and only limited space remains in Duhok province.
“The international community has been insufficient in its support for the Kurdistan Region with regard to the reception of the displaced,” the presidency’s statement quoted Guterres as saying, adding that the UN head “makes every effort he can to raise international support for the Kurdistan Region with regard to the issue of the displaced.”
Barzani “considered helping the displaced a humanitarian and patriotic duty, saying that the Kurdistan Region had no excuse to not carry out that duty,” the statement continued.
Guterres also expressed his willingness to help Baghdad and Erbil resolve their problems, in particular after the defeat of ISIS, the statement added.
Guterres’ visit also comes as the KRG has expressed concern over the UN’s position on raising the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk. The UN’s office in Iraq issued a statement responding to the Kirkuk government’s decision to fly the Kurdish flag alongside the Iraqi one, cautioning “against any unilateral steps that might jeopardize harmony and peaceful coexistence” in the multi-ethnic city.
The head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa, held a meeting with the UN’s Jan Kubis regarding the statement. Kubis reportedly said he will take the KRG’s concerns into account.
Guterres began the day in Baghdad, where he said he was on a visit of “solidarity” with the Iraqi people and government “in what I believe is an historic moment for Iraq,” which is “in the final stages of its fight against terrorism.”
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Guterres said he was “extremely encouraged” by Abadi’s commitment to the protection of civilians in the war against ISIS and “his commitment to a national dialogue and an effective process of reconciliation” for the state of Iraq after ISIS, “a State in which all communities respect each other and reconciliation becomes something natural.”
He offered the UN’s full support in terms of humanitarian aid, stabilization, reconstruction, and building Iraqi national institutions.
Guterres visited Iraqi many times in his former position as head of the UN’s refugee body, the UNHCR, from 2005 to 2015. Iraq’s ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, described Guterres as a “close friend” of former Iraqi president and founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Jalal Talabani who held the post of Iraqi presidency from 2005 to 2014.