The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani met with the United States Defense Secretary James Mattis in Erbil this week, where he reiterated that an independence referendum due to be held later this year will still take place.
“President Barzani also stated that no forced union has ever worked,” a statement from the Kurdish presidency said. “We chose a union of willingness conditioned to partnership, but because partnership did not work and to prevent deeper problems, we want to live as two good neighbours,”
His comments come after Mr Mattis reportedly called for a delay on the vote.
“Our point right now is to stay focused like a laser beam on the defeat of ISIS and to let nothing distract us,” The New York Times reports Mr Mattis as telling reporters.
A statement from the Pentagon after the meeting said Mr Mattis also thanked Mr Barzani “for his strong leadership of Peshmerga forces and being a supportive partner in operations to defeat ISIS”.
However the KRG has been firm that the vote will still take place.
“We intend to proceed with the referendum on Sept. 25 to allow our people to determine their own future,” said Kurdish security official Masrour Barzani. “This remains the only solution; forced coexistence in Iraq isn’t working.”
“The US should get behind the process by sponsoring Erbil-Baghdad talks,” he added. “As an honest broker, it can give both parties the political space necessary to reach a peaceful settlement on a question that has lingered throughout the last century.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Pesh Merga also denied the referendum would have any impact on military capabilities, telling journalists that “We are confident in our ability to fight ISIS regardless of that taking place”.
The United States, whilst praising the KRG, has been critical of the scheduled independence vote.
The US envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State said that “it is not just the United States that does not think this referendum should be held.” The envoy, Brett H McGurk, added that “Every member of our coalition believes that now is not the time to hold this referendum”.
However President Barzani was clear that any request for Kurdistan to postpone the referendum, should come with an alternative “and that alternative should be stronger than the tool of referendum,” according to the Kurdish language statement from his office.