By Arab News
By Siraj Wahab
Kurdish leaders will decide in the next two days whether to postpone this month’s controversial independence referendum, a leading political figure from Irbil told Arab News on Sunday.
A Kurdish delegation will travel to Baghdad to assess what is on offer from the Iraqi government.
“Only after studying the various options will the Kurdish leadership be able to make a decision on postponing it,” former MP Mahmoud Othman said.
“There are ongoing contacts between the Kurdish leadership and Baghdad and we will see final results in the next two days.
“With so much pressure from Baghdad, the US, Turkey and Iran, it will not be easy to go ahead with the vote. The Kurds will have to rethink their position.”
Othman dismissed a proposal on Saturday by Iraqi President Fuad Masum, himself a Kurd.
“Nobody listens to him,” he said. “His is a ceremonial position. He does not carry weight. The real power and decision-making is with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.”
He said the Kurds were in a difficult position and the leadership was to blame for not having studied the pros and cons before deciding to go ahead with the referendum.
“They did not anticipate the massive opposition to the referendum decision; they should have thought about how the major countries would respond. Obviously the Kurdish leadership did not do that.”
Othman said the Kurdish people were all in favor of the referendum. “Now, if the vote is canceled, the people will be demoralized and that is why I say the leadership should have thought about all this beforehand.”
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet Al-Abadi this week to discuss their concerns about the referendum.
Turkey, the US and other Western powers have advised authorities in the semi-autonomous region to cancel the vote, worrying that tensions it would generate might be an unwelcome distraction from the war on Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
With the largest Kurdish population in the region, Turkey also fears that a “Yes” vote would fuel separatism in its southeast, where militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have waged an insurgency for three decades.
Ankara and Baghdad have the same view of the referendum, Erdogan said before leaving for New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
“We will have a meeting with Mr. Abadi in the United States, and from what we can see our goal is the same. Our goal is not dividing Iraq,” he said.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said on Friday the referendum would go ahead as planned on Sept. 25. Erdogan said the Turkish government had therefore brought forward planned national security council and Cabinet meetings to Sept. 22, after which Turkey would announce its position on the issue.
Turkey has good relations with Barzani’s administration, founded on strong economic links and shared suspicions of other Kurdish groups and Iraq’s central government.
The Kurdish Regional Government, led by Barzani’s KDP party, exports hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day via Turkey to world markets.