ARBIL: Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, asked its parliament Thursday to start organizing a referendum on independence.
Parliament should make "preparations to begin to organize a referendum on the right of self-determination," Barzani said, according to a recording obtained by AFP of remarks he made in a closed session.
"It will strengthen our position and will be a powerful weapon in our hands," the Kurdish leader added.
The autonomous Kurdistan region has long been at odds with Iraq's federal government over numerous issues, especially what Kurdish politicians say are delayed and insufficient budget payments to the region this year.
With Kurdistan exporting oil independently and a lack of funding from Baghdad, its main link to the rest of the country, independence is an increasingly attractive option for some.
But the issue is significantly complicated by the Kurds' control of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and a swath of other northern territory that they want to absorb, over Baghdad's strong objections.
Federal security forces abandoned positions when faced with a Sunni militant offensive that began June 9, allowing Iraqi Kurdish forces to move in.
Even if the Kurds vote for independence, Baghdad is all but certain to oppose that territory being kept by the region.