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Iraqi Kurdish Parliament Backs Independence Referendum

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in traditional uniforms take part in a march to support the independence referendum in Irbil on September 13.

Lawmakers in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region have approved a plan to stage an independence referendum that is opposed by Baghdad and neighboring countries and has raised Western concerns that the vote could stoke fresh tensions in the region.

Jaafar Aimenky, the region's vice president who chaired the September 15 session, announced that the nonbinding referendum would go forward after an overwhelming number of regional lawmakers voted in favor.

The planned referendum has angered Turkey and Iran, which fear it could inflame separatist desires among their sizable Kurdish minorities.

The United States and other Western powers also have opposed the move, fearing it could weaken the already shaky government in Baghdad.

Iraq's parliament on September 12 voted to reject the poll and authorized Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to "take all steps to protect the unity of Iraq and open a serious dialogue" with the country's Kurdish leaders.

But Kurdish region President Masud Barzani has said the vote is necessary because "all other bids" to secure full Kurdish rights "have failed."

The Kurdish region won autonomy in 2005 under a constitution that established a federal republic in Iraq.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, and AP