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Kurds stick to independence vote despite U.S. request

Reuters ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) — Iraq’s Kurds are sticking to a plan to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25, despite a U.S. request to postpone it, a high-ranking Kurdish official told Reuters on Saturday.

The United States and other Western nations are worried that the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and turn into another regional flashpoint. Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.

“The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Barzani to postpone the referendum.

Tillerson made the request in a phone call with Barzani on Thursday, Zebari said.

“On the issue of the postponement of the referendum, the President [Barzani] stated that the people of the Kurdistan Region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future,” said a statement issued on Friday by the Kurdistan Regional Government presidency, after Tillerson’s call.

The U.S. State Department said in June it was concerned that the referendum will distract from “more urgent priorities,” such as the defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.

ISIL’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” effectively collapsed last month, when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces completed the takeover of Mosul, the militants’ capital in Iraq, after a nine-month campaign in which Kurdish Peshmerga fighters took part.

The hardline Sunni militants remain however in control of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. The United States has pledged to maintain its backing to allied forces in both countries until the militants’ total defeat.

The Kurds have been seeking an independent state since at least the end of World War I, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East, but their territory ended up split between modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.Speech

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