The provocative plan for an independence vote on Iraqi Kurdistan is seen by some analysts as more about control over the region's oil fields than about a divorce from Baghdad.
Kurdish officials said voting on the question of "Do you want an independent Kurdistan?" would take place in regions including three claimed by Baghdad and in the fiercely-disputed and multicultural city of Kirkuk. Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians and other groups call the city home.
Some groups want Iraqi Kurdistan to remain part of Iraq. Some Kurds want it incorporated into the wider Kurdistan region, which crosses borders. In Al-Monitor, researcher Nahwi Saeed describes incorporation as a red line for the Arabs and Turkmen. Imposing the will of one party or state on others in a deeply divided city like Kirkuk will lead to bloodshed and few solutions, he explained.
An unnamed political source told Al-Monitor that Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), wants an independence referendum so he will have "strong leverage against the Iraqi government to win the oil fields west of Kirkuk during negotiations on the future of KRG-Baghdad relations."
The referendum decision is sure to spark a showdown with Baghdad, which has for years sought to keep the restive Kurds inside a barely functioning Iraqi state, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
Between 25-35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state due to political conditions that predate the creation of Iraq after World War I.
Date written/update: 2017-06-16