Kirkuk Turkmen cry foul in advance of Kurd region poll
Kurdish militants in Kirkuk are tearing down banners critical of a planned referendum on the proposed secession of the northern Kurdish region from Iraq, the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) said Friday.
A coalition of Turkmen parties and groups, the ITF is regarded as the main representative of Iraqi Turkmen in Iraq's parliament.
"The tearing down of anti-referendum banners -- which were put up by the Turkmen Nationalist Movement -- is an assault on free expression," the ITF said in a statement.
"The ITF reiterates its support for the Turkmen Nationalist Movement and its rejection of Iraq's dissolution," the statement read.
The ethnically-diverse city of Kirkuk remains the subject of dispute between northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and Iraq's central government in Baghdad.
"Silencing opposing opinions and anti-referendum sentiment shows the lack of democratic practice in the referendum process," ITF member Hassan Salman told Anadolu Agency.
"If the KRG wants to hold a democratic referendum, it should allow all parties to express their opinions without hindrance," he added.
The non-binding referendum, in which residents of the Kurdish region will vote on whether or not to formally secede from the Iraqi state, is currently slated for Sept. 25.
Baghdad, however, rejects the planned poll, saying it could adversely affect the region's ongoing fight against the Daesh terrorist group.
The Iraqi government also claims that the poll would violate Iraq's 2005 constitution and would be "of no political or economic benefit to the region's Kurds".
Turkey, too, rejects the planned referendum, saying that maintenance of Iraq's territorial integrity is inextricably linked to the region's stability.
The U.S., for its part, has likewise expressed concern that the referendum would serve as a "distraction" from other pressing regional issues, especially the fight against terrorism and the stabilization of war-weary Iraq.