Kurdish lawmakers on Friday voted to plow ahead with an independence referendum on September 25, in a move foreign observers fear will ignite conflict with the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad.
"The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas".
Accordingly, and in the face of bitter opposition from Baghdad, 65 out of 68 lawmakers present voted in favor of the September 25 poll as opposition members boycotted the parliament's first session in two years.
"If they have a stronger alternative to the referendum, the Kurdish leadership will look at it, but if they want [us] to postpone the vote with no alternatives, we won't", Barzani said Thursday. Late last month, Kirkuk's provincial council voted to take part in the referendum.
The regional parliament's decision came despite an intense diplomatic drive by the USA, which has provided critical military aid to the KRG's fight against Daesh, to persuade the Kurdish leadership to cancel the referendum.
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Iraq's Kurdish region has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the USA imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War. Mr Barzani says the referendum's "legitimacy comes from the people of Kurdistan, not from the outside".
Baghdad has repeatedly opposed the Kurdish referendum, calling it "unconstitutional".
Barzani has been in dispute with Gorran since he blocked its parliamentarian speaker from Irbil and shuttered the legislature in 2015.
"Even if the independence referendum is held, Baghdad will not recognize its outcome".
It is also concerned that the scheduled referendum comprises disputed areas such has Kirkuk, which is home to Turkmen, Arabs, Kurds and Christians. It is claimed by both the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad.