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Kirkuk's Turkmen Call for Referendum Boycott

Leaders of eight Turkmen parties in Kirkuk province have called on Turkmen to boycott the Kurdistan independence referendum saying it violates the Iraqi constitution.

"We call on all members of our Turkmen people to boycott the referendum and not to take part in it," one of the Turkmen leaders read from a joint statement in a press conference on Saturday.

The vote that also includes Kirkuk and other disputed or Kurdistani areas, "violates the Iraqi constitution" and lacks "legitimacy," the statement argued.

Arshad Salihi from the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the largest Turkmen party in Iraq, told reporters that they want Turkmens to boycott the vote completely rather than casting a 'No' ballot. He warned that if they take part in the vote in any shape or form, it will be taken as legitimizing the referendum.

On August 29, the majority of the Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk Provincial Council voted to join the independence referendum. A few Arab and Turkmen members of the council who are part of the Kurdish Brotherhood faction backed the decision, but other Turkmen and Arab members boycotted it.

The Turkmen statement on Saturday called the council's decision "unilateral," reflecting the will of only one group.

With respect to the September 25 referendum, the Turkmen said they "will not recognize its results and will consider it as though it never existed."

This decision is not against the Kurdish people, the Iraqi Turkmen Front's Hasan Turan said.

The Iraqi government considers the referendum unconstitutional, in both the Kurdistan Region and the disputed areas. The Kurdistan government on the other hand accuses Baghdad of violating almost one third of the Iraqi constitution, including the article that concerns disputed areas.

Turan said they do not want to begin a confrontation with Baghdad because of the referendum. He said if the vote goes ahead, it may result in Baghdad halting Kirkuk's share of the Iraqi budget, just as the central government has done to the Kurdistan Region since 2014.

The Turkmen parties called on the Iraqi presidency, prime ministry office, and the parliament to commit to their duty according to the Iraqi constitution that requires them to preserve "the unity, sovereignty and independence" of Iraq.

Kurdistan envisions Kirkuk as a symbol of coexistence, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani told BBC's Turkish service in an interview published on Saturday.

Asked about the possibility of a military confrontation if Kirkuk takes part, Barzani said Kurds are ready to fight to keep Kirkuk part of the Kurdistan Region.

"I hope that we are not going to be forced to wage war because of Kirkuk. We do not want that to happen," Barzani said. "But if some people want to take Kirkuk away from Kurdistan through the use of weapons, then you will see how all the Kurds are going to be prepared for a fight for this city."

Barzani said last month that they are ready to offer senior positions to Turkmens, Arabs, and others in Kirkuk, but stressed that the Kurdistani identity of the province is not up for debate.

"Concessions will not be made over the identity of Kirkuk," Barzani said, promising that nobody will be able to "take Kirkuk by force" and that Kurds will fight to the last person and breath to defend its identity.

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