KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s oil-producing region of Kirkuk will vote in a referendum on Kurdish independence on Sept. 25, its provisional council decided on Tuesday, a move that could increase tension with Arab and Turkmen residents.
The ethnically mixed region is claimed by both the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
The vote is “definitely happening” on Sept. 25, Kirkuk Governor Najmuddin Kareem told Reuters after a majority of the provincial council voted in favor of taking part.
Only 24 of the 41 council members attended Tuesday’s vote, with 23 voting in favor of participating in the referendum. One abstained.
The remaining council members – all Arabs and Turkmen – boycotted the vote. Instead, they issued statements denouncing the vote as “unconstitutional.”
The KRG had said it was up to the local councils of Kirkuk and three other disputed regions of Iraq to decide whether to join the vote on the independence of the Kurdish region.
The vote in the disputed regions would amount to deciding whether to join the KRG or remain under the jurisdiction of the Shi’ite Arab-led government in Baghdad. Baghdad says the referendum is unconstitutional.
Speaking to reporters following a meeting of his council of ministers, Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi denounced Tuesday’s decision as “wrong”.
“Issues are not handled like this,” he added.
Sunni MP Mohammed al-Karbouli told Reuters that Tuesday’s decision “would help trigger ethnic fighting” in the region and would also “extend the life” of Islamic State in the country.
“It’s a stark violation of the constitution and a determined move to confiscate the rights of the Arab and Turkmen in Kirkuk. The government should intervene to stop this violation,” al-Karbouli said.
The United States and Western nations fear the vote could lead to…