The leader of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Masud Barzani, says he plans to hold an independence referendum within months.
In an interview with the BBC, Barzani said the time is right for a vote as Iraq is already effectively partioned.
"We will hold a referendum in Kurdistan and we will respect and be bound by the decision of our people and hope that others will do likewise," Barzani said.
Barzani said he could not set a date yet "but definitely it's a question of months."
He said the final decision would be left to the Kurdish regional parliament.
Barzani told Voice of America that the current situation in Iraq is "chaotic and scary."
"Now, along a 1,050-kilometer border, we face terrorists and radical groups and people who are unknown to us," he said. "This is a new situation. I doubt if Iraq will go back to what it was. Maybe only God knows what will happen."
Barzani said Iraq has not been run in a way to make the Kurds feel they are partners and stakeholders in the administration of the country.
"The Kurds did not bring about the dangerous situation [that threatens] the integrity of Iraq. We did not create the situation in which Iraq finds itself today," he told VOA. "We have not partitioned Iraq. Rather, it was others who brought about this catastrophe and broke up Iraq into pieces.
"We will turn to the public ballot," he added. "The decision that will be made will be in favor of the people of Kurdistan."
Barzani's comments come as Sunni fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have swept across large parts of northern and western Iraq in June and declared a "caliphate" in territories seized across Iraq and Syria.