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Iraq's Abadi rejects Kurdish call to 'freeze' independence referendum

Posted October 26, 2017 4:38 a.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2017 5:34 a.m. EDT

— Iraq's Prime Minister demanded Thursday that Kurdish leaders cancel the results of its independence referendum, rejecting a proposal from Erbil to "freeze" the outcome instead and begin talks over the future of the region.

Speaking from the Iranian capital of Tehran, Haider al-Abadi said the Kurdistan Regional Government, which administers the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, must comply with the country's constitution.

"We accept only the cancellation of the referendum and the adherence to the constitution," Abadi said Thursday.

The "referendum was held at a time when we were united in fighting a war against Daesh [ISIS]," he added. "We warned against holding the referendum, but to no avail."

The comments appeared to be a dismissal of the KRG's call Wednesday to put the results of its September vote -- in which more than 90% of Iraqi Kurds backed independence -- on hold and start negotiations.

Iraqi government forces swept through swathes of Kurdish-controlled territories in recent weeks in an offensive that appears be moving forward in spite of the KRG's attempts at reconciliation.

Iraqi forces shelled Kurdish Peshmerga positions in the Iraqi town of Zummar on Thursday, the Kurdish Regional Security Council tweeted.

Kurdish leaders said Wednesday that the freezing of the referendum would "prevent further violence."

Iraqi government forces, supported by Iranian-backed Shia militias, have dealt a major blow to Kurdish ambitions for statehood in northern Iraq, retaking strategic Kurdish-controlled territories such as the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Last month's referendum was heavily criticized by Baghdad, which deemed it unconstitutional, and regional powerhouses including Iraq and Turkey, both of which fear Kurdish independence movements in their own countries.