Arbil (Iraq) (AFP) – Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, on the eve of a disputed independence referendum, said Sunday that his people’s “partnership with Baghdad has failed” and urged them to go to the polls.
“We have reached the conclusion that independence will allow us not to repeat past tragedies,” he told a news conference in Arbil, capital of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
“The partnership with Baghdad has failed and we will not return to it,” said Barzani, who has resisted pressure from the central government, neighbouring states and Washington to call off Monday’s referendum and to negotiate a new deal.
He urged “all Kurds to vote in peace from tomorrow”.
“The referendum is the first stage of Kurdistan giving its opinion. After that, a long process will begin,” the Kurdish leader said.
“The referendum is not for defining borders or imposing a fait accompli. We want a dialogue with Baghdad to resolve the problems, and the dialogue can last one or two years,” Barzani said, in reference to disputed zones such as oil-rich Kirkuk.
Barzani said he hoped Turkey, a strong opponent of the referendum, would not close its border with Iraqi Kurdistan, warning that both sides would emerge “losers”.
As for the risks of violence, he said: “We never think of armed conflict but we are ready for everything. We have all the love for the Iraqi army and we are brothers.
“We expect reactions from one side or another but we are convinced that whatever the risk and the price, it’s better than waiting for a dark outcome.”