Iraq’s oil-rich Kirkuk province voted on Tuesday to participate in a Kurdish independence referendum scheduled for September, in a move that could raise tensions in the disputed region. The ethnically mixed province of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen has long been at the center of disputes between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold a non-binding independence referendum on September 25 in three northern provinces that make up the autonomous Kurdistan region. Controversially, the vote also includes so-called disputed areas outside the KRG’s official boundaries, captured when the Iraqi army crumbled in 2014 as the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) swept through the country.
Only 24 of the Kirkuk provincial council’s 41 members attended Tuesday’s vote, with 23 voting in favor of joining the referendum. Arabs and Turkmen boycotted the vote.
Kirkuk’s Kurdish governor Najmaldin Karim told reporters after the vote that it represented a “historic event.” “We have the right to take part in the referendum, and whoever denies this knows nothing about human rights,” he said.
Iraq’s central government strongly opposes the referendum, especially the inclusion of disputed territories outside official KRG borders.