The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region called for a nonbinding referendum on independence on February 2, saying national borders that have separated the region's Kurds for a century were "a big mistake."
"The time has come and the situation is now suitable for the Kurdish people to make a decision through a referendum on their fate," Masud Barzani said on his website.
"That referendum does not mean proclaiming statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the Kurdish people about independence and for the Kurdish political leadership to execute the will of the people at the appropriate time and conditions."
Despite economic difficulties due to the plunge in oil prices, Kurdish territorial gains in fighting the Islamic State militant group in the last year have revived dreams of independence among Iraqi Kurds.
The Kurds have asserted their autonomy in recent years by building their own oil pipeline to Turkey and exporting oil independently as relations with the federal government in Baghdad frayed over power and revenue sharing.
The global plunge in oil prices, however, has brought the region to the point of insolvency. Moreover, any move toward independence is sure to draw strident opposition not only from Baghdad but from Ankara, and would be opposed in Washington as well.
Barzani asserted that national borders created a century ago dividing the region's Kurds between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran were "a big mistake" that have caused "troubles, war, and instability."
“Our region has witnessed too many disasters...and the Kurds haven’t caused any of it. The Kurds have only been the victims while others have brought disasters and conflict to the region,” he said.
He did not suggest a date, but Rudaw.net reported that he told legislators he wants to hold the referendum before the U.S. presidential election in November.
"If the people of Kurdistan are waiting for someone else to present the right of self-determination as a gift, independence will never be obtained. That right exists and the people of Kurdistan must demand it and put it into motion," Barzani said.
"The same way that Scotland, Catalonia, and Quebec and other places have the right to express their opinions about their destiny, Kurdistan, too, has the right, and it's nonnegotiable."
Some observers suggested Barzani's statement was aimed at diverting attention from his own political troubles. His mandate as president expired last year, though he has remained in office and has been contending with a deadlocked legislature.