Iraq's autonomous and oil-rich Kurdish region announced Wednesday it would hold a referendum on independence on Sept. 25, despite opposition from the central government in Baghdad.
"I am pleased to announce that the date for the independence referendum has been set for Monday, Sept. 25, 2017," Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said on Twitter.
Iraqi Kurdistan is made up of three provinces that are run by an autonomous regional government and protected by their own security services. Iraqi Kurds have long supported the idea of an independent state.
The vote will take place in Iraqi Kurdistan, including the disputed city of Kirkuk as well as Khanqin, Sinjar and Makhmor, according to Barzani's assistant Hemin Hawrami. The referendum date was set after a meeting between Barzani and local Kurdish political parties.
Kurdish officials will visiting Baghdad and neighboring states to discuss the referendum plan, TV Rudaw reported. Following the referendum, new elections for the Kurdish regional parliament and president are planned for Nov. 6.
Iraq's majority Shi'ite Arab community mainly live in the south of the country while the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs inhabit different areas of the north. Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has been led by Shi'ites.
Iraqi Shi'ite militias have threatened to use force to expel the Kurds from this region and other disputed areas.
Ammar al-Hakim, the president of Iraq’s ruling Shi'ite coalition, said in an interview with Reuters news agency in April that it would oppose Kurdish referendum, especially against any move to annex the Kirkuk region.
Neighboring Iran, Turkey and Syria also oppose Iraqi Kurdish independence out of fear that separatism would spread to the substantial Kurdish populations in their own countries.