"The Kurds under international protection have been exercising de facto independence in South Kurdistan [northern Iraq] for the last 13 years and they do not wish to be controlled by an Arab-dominated Iraq," the group said at the United Nations' New York headquaters on Wednesday.

Iraq's Kurds are ethnically, culturally and philosophically distinct from Iraqi Arabs and "for the last 80 years have been subjected by the Iraqi Arab state to repression, enslavement and genocide", a group statement said.

Former Iraqi governments have always denied such allegations.

The delegation of Kurds, including two from northern Iraq and five currently living either in the United States or Europe, identified themselves as "nonpartisan".

Decision pending

All the signatures were gathered in Iraqi Kurdistan, Najm al-Din Karim, president of the Washington Kurdish Institute and a member of the delegation, said.

"The Kurds under international protection have been exercising
de facto independence
in South Kurdistan
for
the last 13 years and they do not wish to
be
controlled by an
Arab-dominated Iraq"

Statement by Iraqi Kurd delegation to the UN

"We have presented the petition to the Iraqi government as well," he said.

Delegation members said a decision on a referendum probably would have to wait until after scheduled 30 January elections as the country is now run by an unelected interim government, which includes Kurds.

Iraq's current leaders have ruled out a separate Kurdish state.

So has the UN Security Council, which has adopted several resolutions calling for the preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity.