By Idris Okuducu
Dialogue with Iraq’s central government can be on “how to be good neighbors” not “how to revive a failed partnership,” the leader of northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) said Sunday, reiterating that Monday’s controversial referendum on Kurdish regional independence will not be postponed.
Speaking at a press conference in the northeastern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah, Masoud Barzani called northern Iraq’s Kurdish region independence poll a referendum “to determine how Kurdish people of the region want to live”.
"We are ready for long and constructive talks with Baghdad. The referendum does not mean determining borders and impositions. Of course, our talks with Baghdad will not be on a failed partnership; rather, they will be on how we can remain good neighbors,” Barzani said.
Barzani also asserted that “only the referendum can guarantee that painful disasters will not happen again.”
Barzani said the international community is "threatening" Erbil instead of questioning the factors behind the decision to hold a referendum.
"The conclusion of the last 100 years is the denial of the existence of the Kurdish people,” Barzani said. “Why is it a crime to try to learn democratically what the Kurdish people think?”
Barzani accused Iraq’s central government of being autocratic and sectarian “not federal and democratic, which is contrary to what had been decided on before”.
Barzani went on to say that Kurdish people had contributed a lot when the new Constitution was drawn up in 2005.
“However,” he added, “the Constitution was violated, the salaries of the Peshmerga weren’t sent, so the partnership ended. Then the budget allocated for civil servants was cut. How could we survive like this?”
Asked about Erbil’s reaction if the borders with the region were to be closed after the referendum, Barzani said they did not want to see it.
“It would benefit no one.”
Slated to be held on Monday, the non-binding referendum will see Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas -- and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad -- vote on whether or not to declare independence.
Along with Baghdad, Turkey, the U.S., Iran and the UN have all spoken out against the referendum, saying it would distract from the ongoing fight against Daesh and further destabilize the region.
Iraq’s central government has even threatened to intervene militarily if the vote leads to violence.
Barzani, for his part, has said that a victory for the Yes vote would not initiate an automatic declaration of independence but would simply lead to further negotiations with Baghdad.