As Erbil-Baghdad tensions soar, regional officials say over 90 percent of voters said ‘Yes’ in non-binding referendum.
French President Emmanuel Macron has offered to mediate between the central government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), following Erbil’s referendum decision to split from the rest of the country.
Speaking at a press conference in Paris with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Macron said his country was committed to the stability of Iraq.
“France is ready to contribute actively to the UN’s mediation efforts, if Iraqi authorities so wish,” Macron said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister said “separatism is unacceptable” following last month’s unbinding referendum.
“We don’t want armed confrontation, we don’t want clashes, but federal authority must prevail,” al-Abadi said.
Last month’s referendum saw 92.7 percent of registered Iraqi Kurd voters backing a split from Baghdad. But the referendum result has been met with resistance by the Iraqi state and several other regional powers, including Turkey and Iran.
Al-Abadi called on Iraqi and Kurdish forces to work together to avoid conflict following the referendum outcome.
“Iraq belongs to all Iraqis,” al-Abadi said.
Prior to the vote, Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution which deemed the vote a “threat to…the civil peace and regional security” and authorised al-Abadi to take any necessary measures to maintain Iraqi borders.
The semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq is home to 2.5 million people. It is governed by the KRG, led by President Masoud Barzani.
Iraq’s constitution recognises the KRG as the official authority of the provinces of Duhok, Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Halabja. The KRG has its own parliament, military and budget, which is allocated by the Iraqi government.
The debate for regional independence has been ongoing in Iraq for decades, with Kurds launching rebellions against successive British and Iraqi governments.
While in Paris, al-Abadi also announced that government forces had retaken the northern town of Hawija, one of the final Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group’s strongholds in Iraq, calling it a “victory not just of Iraq but of the whole world.”