Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has announced that he will step down as president on November 1.
Barzani made the announcement on television Sunday. The autonomous Kurdish Regional Government has faced strong criticism after it held an independence referendum last month.
A number of Barzani’s supporters forced themselves into the parliament building as lawmakers met to approve the president’s request. They attacked lawmakers and reporters while a crowd outside parliament waved Kurdish flags.
Barzani said he wants the position of the president to be dissolved and its duties spread between the Kurdish area prime minister, parliament and the judiciary.
During his speech, Barzani said the Iraqi central government has used the Kurdish vote in September as “an excuse” to retake territory.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and coalition forces had controlled the territory in northern Iraq for years after they pushed out Islamic State, or IS, militants. IS fighters had overrun large areas of northern Iraq in 2014.
Reactions to Barzani’s decision
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is calling for calm and respect for the law after Barzani’s announcement.
Abadi said he was following developments in the Kurdish area closely. He said the central government in Baghdad wants to establish safe conditions in every province and protect the interests of every citizen.
The United States called Barzani’s decision “an act of statesmanship during a difficult period.” In a statement on Monday, the State Department praised Barzani as “a historic figure and courageous leader of his people, most recently in our common fight to destroy ISIS.”
James Jeffery is with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former diplomat. He told VOA that Barzani’s move could ease concerns of the Baghdad government and of Turkey, Iran and other countries opposed to Kurdish independence.
“If he steps down then that will open the door to the step of annulling the referendum vote because that is the demand of both the Abadi government and all of the neighbors.”
Independence vote led to clashes with Iraqi forces
The referendum in September resulted in 92 percent of Kurds voting for independence from Iraq.
Barzani said the vote was meant to provide a way to find a peaceful solution to the governing of the Kurdish area. He said any separation from the central government in Baghdad would be put off for years.
Kurdish leaders had offered to suspend the referendum results and to start talks with the central government but Abadi rejected the offer.
He has said he would accept only a cancellation of the referendum and respect for the country’s constitution.
As a result of the vote, Iraqi central government forces took control of the city of Kirkuk and surrounding areas from Kurdish forces.
The two sides are currently negotiating control of border posts including areas where an important oil pipeline crosses into Turkey.
Masoud Barzani has been president of the Kurdish Regional Government since 2005. However, his second term ended in 2013. It was extended because of fighting with the Islamic State militant group, but parliament had not acted on a further extension in recent years.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Chris Hannas, Esha Sarai and Victor Beattie reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional materials from Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
referendum –n. a vote by the general public on one or a few important issues
statesmanship –n. the act of showing wise, diplomatic leadership in a government
figure –n. a person
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.