Iraqi Lawmakers Reject Pending Kurdish Independence Vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Iraq's parliament meanwhile rejected the referendum in a non-binding resolution, calling it "unconstitutional" and a threat to the country's unity.

It is the largest group of foreigners linked to Islamic State to be held by Iraqi forces since they began driving the militants from Mosul and other areas in northern Iraq past year, an aid official said.

Around 5.5 million people are eligible to vote inside the Kurdish region - which is divided into Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Duhok - as well as Kirkuk province, areas in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh and Iraqi Kurds living overseas.

The parliamentary session Tuesday was boycotted by all Kurdish members, according to lawmaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was present.

The move for independence has also generated concern in Turkey, Iran and Syria, who fear the spread of separatism among their own Kurdish populations.

"We felt sorry when they gave the authorization to the commander-in-chief Mr Haider al-Abadi whereby it relies on the military force to protect the unity of Iraq", Bakhtiyar said.

The Iraqi Kurdish region was created in 1992, and calls for independence have gained impetus following a 2003 US-led invasion, which toppled former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The parliament, he said, "has set what can be the subject of a referendum, and Kurdistan is not one of those cases".

On Feb 3, 2016, Barzani said the "time has come" for the country's Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood.

Kurdish leaders have later said a "yes" vote would pave the way for the start of "serious negotiations" with the Baghdad government.

He added that the independence referendum would result in the loss of numerous and effective opportunities and potentialities of the Kurds in Iraq.

After driving IS from second city Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraqi forces are readying to retake Hawija, one of the jihadists' last urban bastions in the country.

Kirkuk is home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians.

At a press conference, Ali Dayini, head of Diyala's provincial assembly, announced that the council had voted not to include the province in the upcoming poll, which is slated to be held later this month.

The United States has maintained that the timing of the referendum "is wrong", citing the war against ISIS.

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