Iraq’s Kurds offer to freeze results of independence vote
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region on Wednesday offered to freeze the results of its controversial independence vote last month as part of a dialogue with Baghdad.
The proposal, however, is unlikely to be accepted by Baghdad, which demands that the results be annulled before it takes part in any negotiations with the Kurds over relations between the central government and the region.
The regional government in a statement on its website also called for an immediate cease-fire in areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds. Clashes have been taking place since federal security forces took over the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other contested towns this month.
The majority of Iraqi Kurds voted last month for independence in a controversial but symbolic referendum that Baghdad has so far refused to acknowledge, considering it unconstitutional.
The Kurdish independence referendum and the clashes that followed after Iraqi forces moved to retake the disputed areas have raised tensions in the region. Neighboring Iran and Turkey, which are battling Kurdish insurgencies within their own borders, are especially on edge.
In addition to a ban imposed by Baghdad last month, barring all international carriers from using airports in the Kurdish territory, Turkey has closed its airspace to flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish region and has said it was considering closing its border to the region as further reprisal.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that his country is prepared to help Iraq’s central government export oil through a pipeline that would largely bypass the Iraqi Kurdish region.
Speaking alongside visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Ankara, Erdogan also said that talks were underway on possibly closing down the border. Though the Iraqi Kurdish referendum was a non-binding vote, both Turkey and Iraq strongly opposed it.
Baghdad is demanding that the Kurds hand over a disputed pipeline they have used to export oil through Turkey.
Erdogan said Ankara would provide “every kind of support” to help Iraq reopen another, damaged pipeline, that runs near the city of Mosul.
The two leaders also reiterated their support for Iraq’s territorial integrity.
“With the referendum they tried to break up our territory, they tried to redefine our borders,” Al-Abadi said. After Erdogan, al-Abadi also met with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
Turkey had forged close ties to the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, but had urged them not to hold the vote, warning of consequences that would isolate the region. Neighboring Iran is also deeply opposed to the referendum, in which more than 90 percent voted for independence.
Associated Press Writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.