BAGHDAD, Iraq – Kurdistan Region’s delegation tasked with holding official talks on the independence referendum is scheduled to meet with influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf, some 170 kilometers south of Baghdad.
Sadr called on Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in July to “postpone” and eventually “cancel” the Kurdistan referendum on independence planned for September 25.
The visiting delegation is expected to return to Baghdad on Sunday to resume what has been described as “important” and “decisive” talks with the ruling Shiite National Alliance which also includes Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Dawa party.
Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, also a former PM, is the head of the Dawa Party.
Sadr’s Movement has 34 seats in the Iraqi parliament. It is a member of the Shiite National Alliance but has suspended its membership due to political differences with other members of the Alliance, in particular Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.
Sadr was recently visited the United Arab Emirates, after a similar visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MoB as he is known, a staunch opponent of Iranian influence in Iraq and the region.
The cleric Sadr is behind the weekly protests against the Iraqi government as well as the Kurdish-headed Iraqi election commission. His angry supporters even stormed the Iraqi parliament building in April, the first such incident to occur since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The delegation visited Baghdad on Monday and has since met with many Iraqi officials, including PM Abadi, VP Maliki, Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri, and the Shiite National Alliance. The Iraqi officials have said that any step taken by the Kurdistan Region including the referendum should have constitutional backing, with Maliki suggesting that the constitution may have to be amended in order to allow the vote.
They also met with more than a dozen embassies in the Iraqi capital including those from the United States, Iran, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Russia.
Baghdad has called the referendum unconstitutional and unilateral, and said it will not recognize the result. The Kurdistan Region says Iraq pushed Erbil into calling for the referendum by violating at least 50 articles of the Iraqi constitution, including Article 140 that concerns disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, and the budget-share which was cut in early-2014.
The visiting Kurdistani negotiating team maintains that they are sticking to holding the referendum on its stated time in September.
However, a Kurdish source with knowledge of the negotiations and who asked not to be named, told Rudaw that there is “a small chance” that the Kurdistan Region would agree to postpone the referendum until after the Iraqi elections if Baghdad guarantees to give the go-ahead for the referendum at a later date.
The guarantee should come “in writing” and be observed by the United Nations and the United States, the source explained.
The source said the delegation showed a softer line since the Iraqi ruling Shiite National Alliance expressed their willingness to solve all outstanding issues that pushed Erbil to call the referendum.