Iraq has roundly rejected a senior Kurdish official’s suggestion to postpone a planned Sept. 25 referendum on independence in return for financial and political concessions from Baghdad, a London-based paper says.
The suggestion made on Sunday by Mala Bakhtiar, executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Politburo, came as a Kurdish delegation wrapped up a week-long visit to Baghdad to sound out proposals from the two sides.
In an interview with Reuters, Bakhtiar said the delegates wanted to know “what thing would Baghdad be prepared to offer to the Kurdish region” in return for postponing the referendum, the news agency reported.
A terse statement issued by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday rejected the remarks, stressing that the “unrealistic” proposals had never been raised in negotiations between the two sides, the pan-Arab Al Quds Al Arabi daily reported.
The Kurdish delegation, headed by Rozh Nuri Shawaiys, reportedly held talks with Prime Minister Abadi, President Fuad Masum, and other Iraqi leaders as well as ambassadors of the United States, Iran and Turkey in Baghdad.
The visit came after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson formally asked Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to postpone the referendum.
Bakhtiar said Baghdad should help the Kurds overcome a financial crisis and settle debts allegedly owed by their government and agree to settle the issue of disputed regions, such as the oil-rich area of Kirkuk in order to postpone the vote.
“We don’t accept to postpone the referendum with nothing in return and without fixing another time to hold it,” he said.
The statement by the Iraqi prime minister said Bakhtiar’s remarks were his personal views and did not reflect the negotiations between the two sides.
“The Reuters correspondent, quoting the head of the political office of the Kurdish Patriotic Union, has published some claims which are false and unrealistic, and have never been raised in talks with the Kurdish delegation in Baghdad,” it said.
“Moreover, Mala Bakhtiar was not a member of the delegation and was not present during the talks,” added the statement, a copy of which the London-based newspaper said it had received.
Abadi’s office stated that in the report published in Reuters, the position of the Iraqi government had not been reflected and the news agency had sufficed to carry the personal comments of an individual outside the Kurdish delegation.
The Iraqi government has rejected the planned referendum as “unilateral” and unconstitutional. Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizable Kurdish communities, also oppose an independent Kurdistan.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that plans by the leadership in Iraq’s Kurdish region to hold a referendum on independence could lead to civil war.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June strongly criticized the referendum plan, calling it “an error” and “a threat” to Iraq’s territorial integrity.
Iraqi Kurdish oil is exported through Turkey, including from the oil-rich area of Kirkuk where Arab and Turkmen communities also live.
Iraq’s militia groups which were key to driving out Daesh from much of the country have threatened to expel the Peshmarga from Kirkuk and three other disputed areas – Sinjar, Makhmour and Khanaqin.