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Iraqi Official: Erbil-Baghdad Referendum Talks Collapse

Baghdad -- A senior member of the ruling Shiite National Alliance has said that they have no plans to visit Erbil to conduct the second round of talks initiated between Erbil and Baghdad on their outstanding issues, citing what he called "fiery remarks" against Baghdad by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.

Abdullah Zaidi, from the Alliance and also in charge of its Kurdistani relations, told Rudaw on Thursday that the recent remarks made by President Masoud Barzani has created an environment that made it difficult for them to visit Erbil as planned.

However, he said that if the Kurdistan Region is serious in resuming the talks, they welcome a Kurdish delegation to visit Baghdad.

In mid-August, a senior Kurdish delegation visiting Baghdad held week-long talks with Iraqi and foreign officials, including with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The visiting delegation and the Shiite Alliance, which also includes Abadi's Dawa party, announced at the time the talks would resume in two weeks either in Erbil or Baghdad.

The two sides' talks center on the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum, scheduled for September 25.

Baghdad considers the vote unilateral and unconstitutional, while Erbil accuses the Iraqi government of having violated at least 55 articles of the Iraqi constitution, including Article 140 that concerns areas Erbil calls Kurdistani including the multi-ethnic and oil rich Kirkuk but whose status is disputed and therefore claimed by the two sides.

The Kurdish-led Provincial Government in Kirkuk voted last month to take part in the referendum, as did many other Kurdish majority areas such as Khanaqin.

President Masoud Barzani has been holding civic gatherings in Erbil with various groups ahead of the vote.

He has said time and again that the partnership between Erbil and Baghdad that was hoped for since the US-invasion of Iraq in 2003 has failed, and that the current Iraqi government is no different from the former regime of Iraq who launched a genocidal campaign against the Kurds killing tens of thousands of people.

Barzani has maintained that last month's talks are not aimed to negotiate whether the referendum is held or not. He said the task of the delegation was to discuss with Iraqi officials and others how the two sides can become two "good neighbors."

The United States, among other nations, have expressed their opposition to the timing of the referendum, and instead have pushed for negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad with the mission to find a negotiated settlement for their outstanding issues.

Officials in the Kurdish government have said there is no room left for doubt that the vote will be held on September 25. Official campaigning for and against the vote has already begun and will continue through September 22.

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