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Kurds Could Postpone Referendum in Return for Concessions From Baghdad

2017-08-20 >

The central government in Baghdad could convince a Kurdish senior delegation there to consider the possibility of postponing a planned Sept. 25 referendum on independence if certain financial and political compromises are reached, a senior official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said on Saturday (August 19).

"We don't accept to postpone the referendum with nothing in return and without fixing another time to hold it," PUK Politburo head Mala Bakhtyar said in an interview with Reuters.

A Kurdish delegation from the High Referendum Board is in Baghdad for talks over proposals from Iraqi leaders that might convince the Kurds to postpone the referendum, he said.

The Kurdish delegation needs to be told, "What thing would Baghdad be prepared to offer to the [Kurdish] region," in return for putting off the independence vote, he added.

If Baghdad thinks it is not the right time for the vote, it should be willing to assist the Kurdistan Region to pass a financial crisis it is facing and pay off debts it owes in the aftermath of the breakup of the relationship between Erbil and the central government, Bakhtyar said.

He estimates that as part of austerity measures to cope with the financial crisis, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) owes public works contractors and civil servants around $10 to $12 billion.

Baghdad also needs to tackle the issue of disputed territories, including the one related to the city and multi-ethnic province of Kirkuk.

The economic crisis in the Kurdistan Region began after the region went without its share of the federal budget for months as talks between Erbil and Baghdad failed in the first half of 2015.

Erbil attempted to make up for the lack of payments by independently selling oil, however an ongoing war against the Islamic State (ISIS) and a subsequent humanitarian crisis, left the KRG unable to pay salaries for its employees, including Peshmerga fighting on the frontlines.

Salaries for KRG employees have been delayed for months as the government struggles to pay the close to 1.4 million people on its monthly payroll.

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