On Friday, the parliament of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region approved a plan to hold a referendum on independence on 25 September, ignoring Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish opposition as well as United States and Western concerns that the vote may cause new conflicts in the region.
"The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas", President Donald Trump's White House said, in a statement.
It also called on the regional government "to seize this opportunity and to enter into serious negotiations with Baghdad". The President of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish Region, Masoud Barzani, brushed aside demands for postponement last month saying it was "absolutely impossible".
A "yes" vote in the independence referendum would not spell immediate independence for the Kurdish region, since the referendum does not have legal force.
The parliament reconvened on Friday in Erbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
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"So far, we haven't seen an alternative that can take the place of the referendum. Nobody brought a better alternative", Barzani told people in the Nineveh Plains attending an event in support of the referendum.
KRG leader Masoud Barzani on September 15 said that the referendum will be held as planned despite objections from Baghdad, Turkey, the United States and other Western nations.
Kirkuk is home to sizeable Arab and Turkmen populations and lies outside the official boundaries of the Kurdistan region.
Moves toward independence are strongly opposed by Baghdad.
In recent years, there have been tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan over power-sharing, oil revenues and territorial disputes. Supporters of the referendum argue Kurds deserve their own state after fighting IS and facing years of oppression at the hands of governments in Baghdad, including gassing and ethnic cleansing under former dictator Saddam Hussein.
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