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Iraq Parliament Rejects Plan For Kurdish Independence Referendum

Iraqi Kurds wave Kurdish flags and hold burning torches as they walk up a mountain during a gathering to show support for the upcoming independence referendum and encourage people to vote in the town of Akra, some 500 kilometres north of Baghdad,

Iraq's parliament has voted to reject a planned Kurdish independence referendum 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.

Kurdish lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament walked out of the session on September 12 before the vote to reject the nonbinding referendum took place.

Iraq’s Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani vowed to press ahead with the referendum after the parliament rejected the move.

"The referendum will be held on time... Dialogue with Baghdad will resume after the referendum," Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), said in a statement on his ruling party's official website after the vote.

Barzani told a gathering of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk that the referendum was "a natural right", according to a tweet from his aide Hemin Hawrami. Barzani also said Kirkuk should have a "special status" in a new, independent Kurdistan.

The referendum in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region, scheduled for September 25, has faced strong opposition from Iran and Turkey, which fear the vote will encourage separatist movements among their own large Kurdish minorities.

The United States and the European Union also oppose the referendum, fearing it would severely weaken the already shaky Baghdad government.

Even many among the 5.5 million population in the Kurdish region have come out against the poll, saying it could disrupt the fight against Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups.

The referendum is being organized by Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, who said the vote was 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, and AP