Iraq’s Supreme Court on Monday ordered the suspension of a September 25 referendum on Kurdish independence, but a Kurdish official said the vote will go on as planned.
The court’s move came in response to at least two lawsuits challenging the planned vote. One was filed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Another was filed by four members of Iraq’s Parliament – who called for the suspension of the referendum and the designation of the poll as “unconstitutional,” according to court documents.
The referendum has been criticized by the United Nations, as well as US, British and Turkish diplomats.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said any referendum would take away from the battle against ISIS, and that the issue should be resolved through “structured dialogue and constructive compromise.”
“The Secretary-General believes that any unilateral decision to hold a referendum at this time would detract from the need to defeat ISIL, as well as the much-needed reconstruction of the regained territories and the facilitation of a safe, voluntary and dignified return of the more than 3 million refugees and internally displaced people,” Guterres said in a statement.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon echoed his remarks.
“That is our message to President Barzani, (of Iraqi Kurdistan) this referendum is a mistake, and could detract from the essential campaign of defeating Daesh (ISIS),” Fallon said Monday.
Meanwhile Turkey fears the vote could stoke separatist aspirations among its own sizable Kurdish minority.
White House: Vote ‘distracting’
On Friday, the White House called on the Kurdish Regional Government to call off the referendum, saying it was “distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS.”
The Kurdish government administers Iraqi Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, known as Peshmerga, and in northern Syria, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, have proven effective fighting forces on the ground against ISIS.
Numbering about 30 million, Kurds make up a sizable minority in a number of Middle Eastern nations, comprising about 10% of the population in Syria, 19% in Turkey, 15-20% in Iraq, and nearly 10% in Iran. They have never had a nation state of their own, resulting in Kurdish nationalist movements across the region.
Kirkuk governor: Dreams sometimes become reality
Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk province, in a July interview with CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, said Kurds had been subjected to discrimination for decades, and that the time was ripe for a referendum and then a serious discussion with the Iraqi government on a peaceful separation.
“So I believe for the people of Kurdistan to express their opinion as far as independence is a legitimate right and the history that the Kurds have been through with successive Iraqi governments is a proof that the current arrangements are not working.”
He said Kurds had been subjected to discrimination for decades, and that the time was ripe for a referendum and then a serious discussion with the Iraqi government on a peaceful separation.
“Everybody has the right to dream, of course,” he said. “Dream sometimes becomes reality.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect spelling for referendum committee member Abdullah Warty.
Sarah El Sirgany reported from Abu Dhabi.