The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region has asked his parliament to prepare for a referendum on independence, a measure that drew the United States' swift objection.
Massoud Barzani told the region's legislature in a speech Thursday that it is "time to decide about our self-determination and not to wait for other people to decide for us."
And in an interview with VOA, he called self-rule "a natural right that must be achieved. Independence must be achieved. I believe now the conditions are also favorable for independence.”
Barzani asked the lawmakers to form a committee to organize the referendum and pick an election date.
The Obama administration reacted quickly, saying Iraq must remain unified as it battles the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Sunni-led militant group has taken over large swaths of western and central Iraq in its quest to establish an Islamic state.
“The best way for Iraq to confront the threat that’s posed by ISIL is to unify the country in the face of that existential threat,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Barzani's request to the Kurdish legislature comes days after Iraq's new parliament ended its first session since April's election without selecting a new leader. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is in the process of forming a new government, so far has ignored growing demands for him to step down.
The Obama administration is urging Maliki to use the opportunity to create a more inclusive leadership that would be better able to confront the militant threat.
But White House officials on Thursday warned Maliki that time is running out.
The insurgency has inflamed sectarian divisions among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Iraq’s five million Kurds have taken advantage of the upheaval and “expanded their territory by as much as 40 percent in recent weeks,” Reuters reported.
VOA's Mary Alice Salinas contributed to this report. Some information for this report provided by Reuters.