Barzani vows “strong” response to any attempt to seize Kirkuk

A man holds the Kurdish flag on September 4, 2011 during a demonstration in Stockholm against operations by Iran and Turkey against Kurdish separatist rebels in Iraq. AFP PHOTO /JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Baghdad ( Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani has vowed to “strongly” react to any attempt to take over Kirkuk province for which it engages in a sovereignty dispute with the Iraqi central government.

“Kirkuk is Kurdish….any force that thinks of taking Kirkuk by force will be faced by the whole people of Kurdistan. We will defend it until the last one of us,” a number of Iraqi news websites quoted him saying in press statements.

“Kirkuk is not only Kurdish, it is for Kurds, Arabs and Christians…we shall make it a model of coexistence,” Barzani stated.

Barzani’s statements came a few hours after remarks by a senior Shia militia leader who threatened to consider Kurdistan an “enemy” if it includes Kirkuk in its September 25th referendum on independence from Iraq.

Qais al-Khazaali, commander of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, a component of the Popular Mobilization Forces, said Kurdistan’s inclusion of Kirkuk as a voting district during the anticipated vote is “a serious matter that needs an official, decisive response”.

Addressing Barzani, Khazaali said that if the referendum leads to secession from Iraq, Iraqis will consider territories under Kurdish control as “occupied lands”.

Kurdistan gained autonomous governance based on the 2005 constitution, but is still considered a part of Iraq. The region was created in 1970 based on an agreement with the Iraqi government, ending years of conflicts.

Since it set the schedule for the controversial poll, Erbil has stressed it was not backtracking on the plan.

Baghdad and Erbil have for long disputed sovereignty over oil-rich Kirkuk. Its governor stirred a political crisis in March when he decided to raise Kurdish flags above government buildings there, and vowed to back independence from Iraq.

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