Iraq Kurdistan independence referendum planned

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Leader of the Kurdish region of Iraq Massoud Barzani: "The goal of Kurdistan is independence"

The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region has told the BBC he intends to hold a referendum on independence within months.

Massoud Barzani said that Iraq was already "effectively partitioned".

While the Kurds would play a part in a political solution to the crisis caused by jihadist-led Sunni Arab rebellion, independence was their right, he added.

Meanwhile, the first session of Iraq's new parliament has been adjourned after deputies failed to elect a new speaker.

Acting Speaker Mahdi al-Hafez called off proceedings after most of the Sunni and Kurdish members of the House of Representatives did not return after a break, meaning there was not a quorum present.

It had been hoped they would discuss forming a unity government.

The current Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, is facing calls from his Sunni, Kurdish and Shia rivals to step down because of his handling of the crisis.

However, as the leader of the bloc that won the most votes in April's elections, he has demanded the right to try to form a governing coalition.

Huge swathes of northern and western Iraq are now in the hands of Sunni rebels led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis). On Sunday, the al-Qaeda breakaway declared a caliphate in the territories under its control in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

The United Nations has said that at least 2,417 Iraqis, including 1,531 civilians, were killed in "acts of violence and terrorism" in Iraq last month, when Isis launched its offensive.

The death toll does not include fatalities in the western province of Anbar, where the Iraqi authorities say 244 civilians were killed in June.

Image source, Getty Images
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Kurds are willing to play a part in a political solution to Iraq's crisis, Mr Barzani said
Image source, AP
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Independence is natural right for Kurdish people, Mr Barzani said

In the past month, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have moved into previously disputed areas that have been abandoned by Iraqi security forces in the face of Isis's advance, such as the oil-rich region of Kirkuk.

"Everything that's happened recently shows that it's the right of Kurdistan to achieve independence," Mr Barzani told the BBC.

"From now on, we won't hide that that's our goal. Iraq is effectively partitioned now. Are we supposed to stay in this tragic situation the country's living? It's not me who will decide on independence. It's the people. We'll hold a referendum and it's a matter of months."

Analysis: Jim Muir, BBC News, Irbil

Massoud Barzani has always harboured the dream of independence for Kurdistan, and now clearly believes it is closer than ever.

He and other Kurdish leaders say that for 10 years they have done their best to help build a stable, federal Iraq by participating fully in the Baghdad central government.

Now, as the rest of the Iraq is being torn to pieces, they feel justified in giving up and going their own way.

They have not only fresh motivation, but greater means. The oil of Kirkuk, which they seized as army troops fled, may boost their exports to a million barrels a day.

But it is not an easy path. The Kurdistan Regional Government is strapped for cash, and lacks the infrastructure to increase exports substantially.

And the the Kurds of Iraq are landlocked. Neighbours Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq itself have always frowned on the notion of independence. They may be busy with problems now, but not forever.

The Kurds have long striven for an independent state but they remain divided between Syria and Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

The international community, including neighbouring Turkey and the US, remains opposed to the break-up of Iraq.

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The BBC's Jeremy Bowen considers whether the Iraqi government can prevent the break up of the country

Fresh clashes have meanwhile been reported between Sunni rebels and government forces around the Iraqi city of Tikrit.

Witnesses said there had been a wave of air strikes and that former President Saddam Hussein's palace had been hit.

US President Barack Obama announced he was sending about another 200 troops to protect the US embassy in Baghdad.

That means some 750 US soldiers will soon be deployed in Iraq, but Mr Obama has ruled out sending troops to fight alongside Iraq's army.