Kurdistan flag raised in Kirkuk castle on the eve of the Kurdish New Year, Newroz. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Shiite and Sunni political leaders have expressed their opposition to Kirkuk Provincial Council’s decision to participate in the Kurdistan independence referendum.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi vice president and influential Shiite leader, said the inclusion of Kirkuk in the upcoming referendum will pave the way for increased crisis and perhaps fighting between various groups in the region.
The former Iraqi PM who still wields immense power in Iraq described the decision by the Kirkuk Provincial Council to participate in the independence referendum as a means to “undermine hopes" of finding a solution to end the crisis in the region.
The Kirkuk Provincial Council voted on Tuesday – upon a call from the Kurdish-led Brotherhood faction – to take part in the vote.
Maliki said this move by Kirkuk authorities will be a step towards introducing new challenges. He called on the "wise people in Kurdistan," the parliament, and the government to take "urgent measures to avoid this dangerous development to protect the unity and safety and the interests of all Iraqis," read a statement from Maliki's media office.
Kirkuk’s Turkmen Front faction and Arab faction boycotted the council session, saying the move was unconstitutional.
Prominent Iraqi Sunni politician Osama al-Nujaifi, another Iraqi vice president and head of the Mutahidun coalition faction in the Iraqi parliament, questioned the legitimacy of the council’s decision in light of the boycott.
"The Kirkuk Provincial Council's decision without the participation of two major components of this city that are Arabs and Turkmen proves that this decision like others is illegitimate and a violation of the constitution," he said.
He added that the referendum has no legal or constitutional value.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also denounced the Kirkuk decision as “wrong.” He added the referendum is “unconstitutional and has no value.”
Neighbouring Turkey’s Foreign Ministry chimed in to say the decision in Kirkuk violates the Iraqi constitution.
Kirkuk is one of the disputed Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. The province is home to large oil reserves and an ethnically diverse population. After Tuesday’s council meeting, that population will be able to express for themselves in the September 25 referendum whether they want an independent Kurdistan or not.