Kirkuk residents stock up ahead of Kurdish referendum

AFP , Saturday 23 Sep 2017

A market in the city of Kirkuk (Photo: AFP)

Residents of the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk north of Baghdad were stocking up with supplies on Saturday ahead of the planned controversial referendum on independence for Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

People in the city fear the situation could deteriorate if the plebiscite set for Monday goes ahead, as the oil-rich province is disputed between the federal government in Baghdad and the regional government in Arbil.

Iraq's government has called the referendum unconstitutional, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejecting it, "whether today or in the future".

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Saturday delayed a scheduled news conference on the referendum as international pressure mounts for a postponement.

But on Friday, he had again insisted the vote would take place, despite a UN Security Council warning that it was "potentially destabilising".

"The price of food has gone up by 20 percent. What the politicians are doing only benefits businessmen, and it's the poor residents who suffer," market vendor Omran Khodr told AFP on Saturday.

Kirkuk is not one of the three provinces that have been part of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq since 2003.

It is in an area disputed between Baghdad and the Kurds who claim it is theirs historically, since Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein chased them out and replaced them with Arabs.

Saturday's rush by Kirkuk residents to stock up came as the body responsible for organising the referendum said it would indeed go ahead on Monday.

"The referendum will take place on the day scheduled," the organising committee announced.

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