Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq announced on Friday that the disputed independence referendum will go ahead on September 25.
Barzani, who has been under international pressure to delay the vote, defiantly told his supporters that the referendum would go ahead as scheduled and that “anyone who opposes it can go to the ballot box and vote no”.
Saudi Arabia called upon the parties concerned to engage in dialogue in order to achieve the interests of the Iraqi people in all its components and to ensure security and peace in Iraq and preserve its unity and sovereignty, according to a statement issued by a source from Riyadh’s government last week.
The UN Security Council also warned on Thursday that a referendum on independence by Iraq’s Kurdistan region was potentially destabilizing and urged dialogue.
In a unanimous statement, the 15-member council said the referendum planned for Monday could hinder efforts to help refugees return home.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday told his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari that Moscow supported Iraq's territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"The Russian side confirmed its constant support for the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq," the ministry said.
In his speech in front of over 30,000 Iraqi Kurds in Erbil Barzani said that the region is ready for dialogue, but only after the scheduled referendum takes place.
Barzani said that the issue of postponement of the referendum has gone out of his hands after it became a public issue.
Barzani declared that "we may die for our goal."
"We have tried a lot with all parties to reach a solution to the problems and abide by the constitution, but they did not accept the partnership," he said.
He stressed that the Iraqi constitution emphasizes a "union" and not "unity".
Barzani talked about the bombardment of Halabja by chemical weapons during Saddam Hussein's rule, as well as Saddam's campaign against Kurdish villages in Iraq.
"We thought after 2003 that we were building a new Iraq, but instead of building a democratic civilian state, we found a sectarian state."
"They should have sent weapons to the Peshmerga, but they cut the budget," he said. "Baghdad believed the Kurds were divided and could not complete the referendum."
"After the constitution of Iraq was drafted, we accepted it, but Baghdad did not comply with it. Article 140 of the constitution was not implemented," he said.
Barzani said that "the referendum is not to draw out the border, but to assert our right for independence,"
The head of the Kurdistan region of Iraq rejected all local, regional and international pressure to postpone the referendum, saying: "They have been pressing us day and night.
He insisted: "I will not take a position that shames my people, who does not want a referendum can go to the polls and says no."
He pointed out that the Iraqi Kurdistan are now "choosing between freedom and slavery" and that the Peshmerga will not allow the territory to fall “into the hands of enemies”.
Barzani praised the role of the Peshmerga in fighting against ISIS, highlighting their sacrifices.
Evidence on the ground indicates that the Kurdistan region is on track to conduct the referendum on September 25 despite all internal and external rejection.
The Electoral Commission in the region said that the number of ballot boxes amounted to 12 thousand and are distributed at over 2000 centers in all areas where the referendum will be held.
The referendum will be held in the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala, as well as the district of Tuz Khurmato.
The Commission pointed out the completion of logistical and technical measures and the preparation of observers and supervisors of the referendum.