Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani delays independence vote announcement

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Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Saturday delayed a scheduled news conference on a controversial independence referendum he has called for next week as international pressure mounts for a postponement.

There has been uncertainty about whether the vote will go ahead on Monday as Iraq’s key allies the United States and Iran, as well as powerful neighbor Turkey, have stepped up their opposition.

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“The news conference will take place on Sunday and the time and venue will be announced later,” Barzani’s office said without elaborating. On Friday, the Iraqi Kurdish leader had insisted that the vote would be held as planned, despite a warning from the UN Security Council that it was “potentially destabilizing.”

“The referendum is no longer in my hands, nor is it in those of the (political) parties -- it is in your hands,” Barzani told a large crowd at a football stadium in Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region. But behind the scenes negotiations are still taking place aimed at persuading Barzani to postpone any referendum, according to officials close to the discussions.

Iran and Turkey both have sizeable Kurdish populations of their own and fear the vote will stoke separatist aspirations at home. The federal government in Baghdad is also opposed to the referendum, which it has called unconstitutional.

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On Thursday, the UN Security Council urged “dialogue and compromise” to address differences between the Iraqi government and the regional authorities.

It also said the vote could weaken the military campaign against ISIS “in which Kurdish forces have played a critical role.”
Baghdad this week launched offensives to oust ISIS from the last two pockets it controls in Iraq.

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