Turkey's Chief of General Staff Akar meets Iraqi counterpart in Ankara

Sunday, 24 Sep, 2017

Meanwhile, Iraq's Kurdish leader Massud Barzani has delayed a scheduled news conference on the controversial independence referendum till Sunday, as global pressure mounts for its postponement.

"Holding a referendum is the decision of the people", Barzani said as he met with French ambassador to Iraq Bruno Aubert at his residence in Erbil, according to a statement issued by his office.

On Friday, Turkey's National Security Council held a meeting chaired by President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara to discuss the referendum planned by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Barzani postponed a scheduled press conference on the referendum, saying it would instead take place on Sunday but providing no other details.

He said the Iraqi government's efforts to delay the vote and start negotiations with Kurdish leaders were somewhat halfhearted, unlike successful campaigns by Britain against independence for Scotland and Canada's efforts against independence for Quebec.

Iran and Turkey both have sizeable Kurdish populations of their own and fear the vote in northern Iraq will stoke separatist aspirations at home. US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the price would be high "for all Iraqis, including Kurds".

The council called on the KRG to cancel the referendum and search for solutions in line with Iraq's constitution. The Russian state company, Rosneft, has just signed a billion dollar contract with President Barzani to build a new gas pipeline. "Barzani has put his opponents on the defensive, daring them to oppose a Kurdish independence referendum". Late last Monday, a group of Kurdish gunmen rode through the contested city of Kirkuk on motorcycles after a rally, opening fire on the Iraqi Turkmen Front headquarters - one of the key points of opposition to the referendum in the city.

It also fears the impact the vote could have on the war against the Islamic State group, despite Baghdad and Erbil forces all but defeating the force in Iraq.

Plans to retake the town of Hawija there have been complicated by political wrangling among Iraq's disparate security forces. He said the poll was "rejected, whether today or in the future".

In areas disputed between Arbil and Baghdad, some have issued strong warnings against the vote.

The news agency says 31 of the people detained are foreigners.

"We have always lived peacefully and don't want problems", said Karima Attiyah, an eldery Arab woman who has spent her whole life in Kirkuk.