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Iraq could use force if Kurdish referendum leads to violence

By Associated Press 16/9/2017
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaking during an interview with the Associated Press. Photo: AP video
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaking during an interview with the Associated Press. Photo: AP video

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq is prepared to intervene militarily if the Kurdish region's planned independence referendum results in violence, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Saturday.

If the Iraqi population is "threatened by the use of force outside the law, then we will intervene militarily," he said.

Iraq's Kurdish region plans to hold the referendum on support for independence from Iraq on Sept. 25 in three governorates that make up their autonomous region, and in disputed areas controlled by Kurdish forces but which are claimed by Baghdad.

"If you challenge the constitution and if you challenge the borders of Iraq and the borders of the region, this is a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders as well, which is a very dangerous escalation," al-Abadi said.

The leaders of Iraq's Kurdish region have said they hope the referendum will push Baghdad to come to the negotiating table and create a path for independence. However, al-Abadi said such negotiations would likely be complicated by the referendum vote.

"It will make it harder and more difficult," he said, but added: "I will never close the door to negotiations. Negotiations are always possible."

Iraq's Kurds have come under increasing pressure to call off the vote from regional powers and the United States, a key ally, as well as Baghdad.

In a statement released late Friday night the White House called for the Kurdish region to call off the referendum "and enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad."

"Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing," the statement read.

Tensions between Irbil and Baghdad have flared in the lead-up to the Sept. 25 vote.

Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, has repeatedly threatened violence if Iraqi military or Shiite militias attempt to move into disputed territories that are now under the control of Kurdish fighters known as Peshmerga, specifically the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

"It's chaotic there," Muhammad Mahdi al-Bayati, a senior leader of Iraq's mostly Shiite fighters known as the popular mobilization forces, said earlier this week, describing Kirkuk in the lead up to the vote.

Al-Bayati's forces - sanctioned by Baghdad, but many with close ties to Iran - are deployed around Kirkuk as well as other disputed territories in Iraq's north.

"Everyone is under pressure," he said, explaining that he feared a rogue group of fighters could trigger larger clashes. "Anything could be the spark that burns it all down."

Al-Abadi said he is focused on legal responses to the Kurdish referendum on independence. Earlier this week Iraq's parliament rejected the referendum in a vote boycotted by Kurdish lawmakers.

Iraq's Kurds have long held a dream of statehood. Brutally oppressed under Saddam Hussein, whose military in the 1980s killed at least 50,000 of them, many with chemical weapons, Iraq's Kurds established a regional government in 1992 after the U.S. enforced a no-fly zone across the north following the Gulf War.

After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam, the region secured constitutional recognition of its autonomy, but remained part of the Iraqi state.

When asked if he would ever accept an independent Kurdistan, Al-Abadi said: "It's not up to me, this is a constitutional" matter.

"If (Iraq's Kurds) want to go along that road, they should work toward amending the constitution," al-Abadi said. "In that case we have to go all the way through parliament and a referendum to the whole Iraqi people.

"For them to call for only the Kurds to vote, I think this is a hostile move toward the whole of the Iraqi population," he said.


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Rebaz | 16/9/2017
This is the same iraqi army that ran away from ISIS. Man if they wanna go to war then we will for our independance. Its gonna be the last war.
military is never going to be option and u have no chance to use the force! if wasnt Kurds Irak would be in ISIS control by now so keep quick and save the remaining other wise Irak will be divided more then 3!.
duroi | 17/9/2017
Upholding the constitution and agreements (e.g. pre Mosul Ops agreement) is a must. We reached this point because Baghdad didn't implement article 140 referendum in constitution by its deadline. Are we talking of the same constitution? There is no article 140 or independence referendum in Canada constitution, but it has allowed Quebec to hold several referendum votes because casting ballots in a referendum is less costly than shooting bullets in a war. PM Abadi, like his peers in Canada, needs to come to terms with Sept 25 referendum to compensate for mistake of not implementing article 140 referendum. He needs to sit down in Baghdad with president Masum like two statesmen sipping tea and draft the blueprints of a new post referendum confederation accord between Iraq and Kurdistan (cf. Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords in for Quebec) which is broad enough to later invite troubled Syria, Lebanon/Jordan/Palestine/... to this grand confederation. Is he the man to architect such a grand design?
Jagerxin derashy | 17/9/2017
Bla bla bla stop talking shit and what the fuck you wana do mr big mouth, as a Kurd I will never class you as my leader why can't you understand that Kurds refuse to take orders from your camel drivers, now if you want to do something with your cowered Iraq army just get on with it,but remember you got same army who 30 thousand soldiers put on women's clothing in order to run away from 2 hundred isis jihadi terrorists!
Ali | 17/9/2017
Just about every country except for Israel is supporting the Iraqi government, I know it's your legitimate right and God knows you deserve it more than anyone but is it worth a war where you'll face Iraq Turkey Iran etc? the United States has essentially abandoned you, so take a step back and think rationally with a cold head and not with emotions. If you had the kind of military capability to defeat your neighbors I would say go for it but you don't. Keeping the disputed territory's and resuming the budget should be a compromise you can live with for now, then you wait until Iraq tears itself apart again THEN you declare indipendence.

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