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Iraqi Kurds propose to freeze referendum results

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 25/10/2017
Kurds celebrate to show their support for the independence referendum in Erbil [File: Azad Lashkari/Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Kurds celebrate to show their support for the independence referendum in Erbil [File: Azad Lashkari/Reuters]

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has expressed readiness to freeze the results of a recent referendum to secede from Iraq, as tensions mount between Erbil and Baghdad.

The KRG said in a statement on Wednesday that its leadership was prepared to declare an "immediate ceasefire and halt all military operations in the Kurdistan region".

People in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq voted to secede on September 25 in a referendum, amid rising tensions and international opposition.

The US and other Western allies of Iraq had urged KRG leader Masoud Barzani to cancel or postpone the vote.

Several countries warned that the referendum would distract Iraq from ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and further destabilise the already volatile region.

Israel was the only country in the region that welcomed the referendum, which was seen by many as the beginning of the fragmentation of the region along ethnic and tribal lines.  

More than 92 percent voted "Yes" to secession, with the turnout at almost 80 percent.

The referendum set off a chain of events, culminating in a military confrontation between Erbil and Baghdad.

Iraqi government forces launched a major operation in Kirkuk on October 16 aimed at re-taking the Kurdish-held city, advancing towards oil fields and a strategic military base.

The Kurdish collapse was sudden.

The KRG said on Wednesday it would "freeze the results of referendum" in an attempt to foster dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad.

The announcement comes amid Baghdad's military buildup in the Kurdish region and mounting international pressure on the KRG leadership to back down.

"As Iraq and Kurdistan are faced with grave and dangerous circumstances, we are all obliged to act responsibly in order to prevent further violence and clashes between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces," the KRG statement said.

"Clashes have caused damage to both sides and could lead to a continuous bloodshed, inflicting pain and social unrest among different components of Iraqi society," it added. "Certainly, continued fighting does not lead any side to victory, but it will drive the country towards disarray and chaos, affecting all aspects of life."

Meanwhile, on Monday, a Kurdish opposition group that opposed the referendum called on Barzani to step down. 

Gorran, or the Movement for Change, called for a "national salvation government" in a statement posted on its website, saying the KRG must be dissolved because it had ushered the Kurdish region into "another terrible crisis".

Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the Iraqi-Syrian border, said the KRG statement was "very unexpected".

"The KRG has always said the results of the referendum were a red line," she said. "Now what we have is an offer from the regional government here, saying let's freeze … the results and have an immediate ceasefire and let's go into dialogue." 

Fighting between Iraqi forces, Shia militias, and the Peshmerga erupted on the border on Tuesday morning.

"There was a real concern that the plan was for the Iraqi forces to come all the way up this border and essentially cut off the border crossing – held by the Kurds on both sides," said Dekker. 

Following Wednesday's developments, all eyes will be on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's next move, Dekker explained.

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