By Ali Mukarrem Garip
Arshad Salihi, leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), has voiced his concern over a planned referendum on the independence of Iraq’s Kurdish region from the central government in Baghdad.
“Holding this referendum at such a sensitive time is dangerous,” Salihi told Anadolu Agency on Friday, noting Iraq’s current state of instability.
“The ITF is deeply concerned about this,” he said.
Describing the poll -- set to be held in September -- as “risky”, Salihi warned that the move could jeopardize certain sectors of the Iraqi public, who, he said, were already suffering “numerous economic and political problems”.
“The Kurds could end up forfeiting the significant political and military gains they have achieved in recent years,” he said.
“Kurdish political parties don’t even seem to agree on the issue,” he added, “while Islamic parties -- along with the Movement for Change [Goran Party] -- oppose the referendum altogether.”
Salihi went on to warn that the inclusion of majority-Turkmen territories in the planned referendum could give rise to fresh conflicts.
According to the Turkmen leader, the ITF will oppose any referendum held in areas in which Turkmen dominate.
“The inclusion of disputed areas in the referendum -- such as Kirkuk, Tal Afar and Tuz Khurmatu, where Turkmen constitute a majority -- is very dangerous,” he said.
“We fear the potential for social conflict,” he added.
Stressing that Turkmen and Arabs would respond in unison to any moves toward this end by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), he asserted: “After we negotiate with the Arabs, we’ll demand a special referendum for Kirkuk, which will require a special federal structure or some kind of affiliation with Baghdad.”
At a Thursday meeting between KRG President Masoud Barzani and member of the Kurdish parliament, the date for the referendum was set at Sept. 25.
During and after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurdish Peshmerga forces seized Kirkuk, prompting an influx of Kurds into the ethnically-diverse city.
Kirkuk’s population has historically been comprised mainly of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.
When Kirkuk’s provincial council decided to hold a referendum on the city’s future in April, the council session was boycotted by Arab and Turkmen representatives.
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara