MIDDLE EAST

Turkmen boycott meeting with Kurdish leader in Kirkuk

TURKMEN BOYCOTT MEETING WITH KURDISH LEADER IN KIRKUK

Iraqi Turkmen Front snubs meeting between Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani and Kirkuk-based groups

The Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) on Tuesday boycotted a meeting held in Kirkuk between Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani and ethnic and religious groups based in the city.

"Turkmen members of Kirkuk's provincial assembly chose not to take part in Tuesday's meeting," ITF Vice-President Hasan Turan told Anadolu Agency.

He went on to point out that the region's Turkmen stood in strong opposition to the KRG's planned referendum on Kurdish regional independence, slated to be held later this month.

"We have made it clear that Turkmen don't want this referendum to be held -- neither in Kirkuk nor in other disputed areas," Turan said.

"Kirkuk needs more stability, not tension," he added.

Slated for Sept. 25, the non-binding referendum will see residents of northern Iraq's Kurdish region vote on whether or not to declare formal independence from Baghdad.

Late last month, Kirkuk's provincial assembly -- at a session boycotted by Turkmen and Arab members -- voted to include the province in the upcoming poll.

Historically comprised of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, oil-rich Kirkuk remains disputed between the Barzani's KRG and Iraq's central government.

Baghdad is also strongly opposed to the poll, saying it will adversely affect the fight against the Daesh terrorist group, which still maintains a significant presence in northern Iraq.

Baghdad also believes that holding the poll would violate Iraq's constitution.

Turkey, too, rejects the planned referendum, saying the region's stability depends on the unity of Iraq and the maintenance of its territorial integrity.

Washington, for its part, has voiced concern that the poll could serve as a "distraction" from other pressing regional issues, especially the fight against terrorism and the stabilization of post-Daesh Iraq.

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