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KRG sets deadline on vote

THE president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region this week gave Baghdad three days to reach an agreement with his government over an alternative to next week's highly contested referendum vote on independence, writes Nassir Shirkhani.

The vote includes the disputed oil city of Kirkuk, which falls outside the recognised boundaries of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

KRG President Masoud Barzani told a rally: "Baghdad has three days to provide an alternative to Erbil or the referendum will go ahead."

Baghdad rejects the 25 September vote, calling it unconstitutional.

Washington, Tehran and Ankara have also pressed the Kurds to postpone the vote. They claim the referendum will distract from the fight against Islamic State and spark further instability in the region.

“People of the Kurdistan region want independence, we will not accept threatening language from any country. We are the factor of stability in the region." Barzani said.

Barzani called for bilateral agreements with Baghdad, backed by international and regional countries, to take place instead of the referendum, however, he said "this has not been offered yet".

The rally took place as tensions over the referendum continued to grow. A curfew was imposed in Kirkuk on Tuesday this week after one person was killed in clashes between ethnic Turkmen security guards and Kurds.

The city is inhabited by several different ethnic groups and claimed by both the Kurdish region and Iraq's central government. The city's council has voted to take part in the referendum.

Turkey, which fears Kurdish independence in Iraq could empower Kurdish separatists within its own borders, has deployed tanks and troops to near the Iraqi border. Iran has threatened to impose an economic blockade on the KRG.

Turkey's Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli warned of the dangers of the breakup of Iraq or Syria.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has formally demanded the suspension of the referendum.

Iraq's Supreme Court also ordered that the poll should be postponed until questions over its legality were addressed.