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Macron offers to help Baghdad calm tensions over Kurdish vote

Emmanuel Macron gives a speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France on September 26, 2017.
Emmanuel Macron gives a speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Ludovic Marin/Pool

The Elysee announced in a Friday statement that President Emmanuel Macron invited Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to visit Paris on 5 October to discuss the Kurdish independence referendum. However, the next day Abadi's office denied the invitation was linked to the vote.

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Macron seeks to help Baghdad "ease tensions” with the Kurdistan Regional Government over the semiautonomous region’s independence referendum on Monday, according to the Elysee's statement.

Ninety-two percent of the roughly three million people living in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq voted in favour of secession in the nonbinding referendum, according to the region’s electoral commission. The vote was strongly opposed by Baghdad, which suspended international flights to and from the region on Friday.

According to the statement, Macron spoke with Abadi by telephone on Wednesday. During the call, "Macron stressed the importance of preserving the unity and integrity of Iraq while recognising the rights of the Kurdish people. Any escalation must be avoided," it said.

However, on Saturday Abadi's office denied that Macron's invitation was linked to the Kurdish vote.

"There is no relation between the invitation and the crisis caused by the unconstitutional referendum," it said, according to news agency AFP.

"The visit aims to reinforce bilateral relations and to focus on the fight against terrorism in the region in which Iraq has achieved enormous victories," Baghdad added.

Kurdish authorities say the vote has given them a mandate to negotiate independence from Iraq, a move so far refused by Baghdad.

Monday’s referendum has sent regional tensions soaring, particularly in neighbouring Iran and Turkey, which both have minority Kurdish populations.
Western countries have also come out against the referendum, including the United States, despite Kurdish forces’ participation in US-led military offensives against the Islamic State armed group in both Iraq and Syria. In a statement on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “the vote and the results lack legitimacy”.

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