The parliament of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region has approved holding a referendum on independence on September 25 despite growing opposition from Baghdad and neighbouring countries.
Kurdish MPs in the regional capital of Erbil, in northern Iraq, convened for the first time in two years on Friday and overwhelmingly decided to go ahead with the vote as planned earlier in the year.
The region’s vice president, Jaafar Aimenky, who chaired the session, announced the decision after 65 out of 68 politicians present voted in favour of the poll.
The central government in Baghdad opposes the referendum, with its parliament having rejected the Kurdish plans in a resolution on Tuesday.
Iraq’s neighbours, Iran and Turkey, have also expressed their opposition to the plan as they fear an independent Kurdish state could fuel separatism among their own Kurdish populations.
Friday’s vote also followed the removal on Thursday of Najm Eddine Karim as the governor of the Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk.
Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), had earlier said on Friday that the vote won’t be delayed, despite pressing requests from the United States and other western powers worried that the tension between Baghdad and Erbil would distract from the war on the ISIL group.
“We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” Barzani told a pro-independence rally in the Kurdish town Amadiya.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Erbil, said that despite the vote, there are a number of major obstacles yet to come, especially in the disputed territory of Kirkuk.
Ownership of Kirkuk has long been disputed between Iraq and the Kurdish authorities.
Though not part of the recognised Kurdistan region of Iraq, the province has a large Kurdish population and is under Kurdish military control.
Gorran, the main opposition movement to Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), boycotted the parliament session in Erbil.
It was a dispute between Gorran and the KDP that caused the assembly to suspend its sessions in 2015.