The Kurdish governor of Kirkuk Province has called a vote by the Iraqi parliament to remove him from his position “illegal” and vowed to remain in office.
The September 14 parliamentary vote and the reaction of Governor Najmiddin Karim threatens to raise tensions further between Kurdish leaders and the Baghdad authorities ahead of a nonbinding Kurdish independence referendum scheduled for September 25.
Lawmaker Hussein al-Maliki said the ouster vote in parliament came after consultations with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
Another Arab lawmaker, Muhammad al-Karboli, charged that Karim "threatens the country's unity and civil peace in Kirkuk."
Kurdish leader Masud Barzani condemned the vote and said that Baghdad left no room for negotiations over the independence referendum, according to local media reports.
Kurdish leaders say they will hold the vote in three governorates that make up their semiautonomous region in Iraq's north, as well as in disputed areas such as Kirkuk.
Ethnically mixed Kirkuk Province is controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by the central government in Baghdad.
The planned referendum has angered Turkey and Iran, which fear it could inflame separatist desires among their sizable Kurdish minorities.
The United States and other Western powers also have opposed the move, fearing it could weaken the already shaky government in Baghdad.
Brett McGurk, U.S. special presidential envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, on September 14 called on Kurdish leaders to halt the referendum in favor of an alternative.
McGurk said Washington, Brussels, Paris, London, and Baghdad had jointly developed an alternative to the referendum, without revealing the details.