UNITED NATIONS - A senior Kurdish official said Friday that the referendum on independence from Iraq would go ahead Monday unless the regional government was offered a strong package of guarantees on its future self-determination.
“The leadership in Kurdistan and the people of Kurdistan need a strong package,” Falah Mustafa, the foreign policy chief of the Kurdistan Regional Government, told VOA in an interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Such a package "would guarantee us [that] if we delay it for one or two years," the international community would then "recognize the right to self-determination and also accept the will of the people of Kurdistan and the outcome of the referendum,” he said.
WATCH: Kurds in Iraq Rally Ahead of Independence Vote
Mustafa said a strong package means a clear guarantee for the future of Kurdistan and “not a return to the same old formula that we have suffered from in Iraq.”
U.S. against referendum
The Trump administration is firmly against the planned referendum and has tried to deter the Kurds from holding it, warning it could have “serious consequences.”
“I remain hopeful that there is a very good package on the table in which an alternative might actually be the better path for all sides, but again, we will see,” special U.S. presidential envoy Brett McGurk told reporters Friday in New York.
Mustafa said the Kurdish leadership is very seriously considering the U.S. package and that a delegation would travel to Baghdad on Saturday to see if any agreement is possible.
The U.N. secretary-general, Security Council and many world leaders have also expressed concern that the time is not right for the Kurds to seek statehood, warning it could lead to more instability in an already volatile region.
Turkey holds military drills
Neighboring Turkey, which has a large, active Kurdish population, has threatened sanctions, and in a show of force is holding military drills near the border with Kurdistan. Iran has also said it would consider countermeasures.
“We are disappointed at the reaction of the international community,” Mustafa said, adding that the Kurds have earned their right to be a recognized nation.
“We have shown the international community that we are a partner for peace; we have been a great partner in the fight against ISIS; we have been a great partner in hosting refugees and IDPS [internally displaced persons]; and in the protection of minorities. Where does that stand now?” he asked.
“This referendum is not to declare independence the day after,” Mustafa emphasized. “We understand the complexities. Therefore, we say that this is the beginning of a process — a process of serious and meaningful negotiation with Baghdad in order to address all issues so we end it peacefully.”
There is tremendous support for the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and nearly a million people are registered to vote. There have been huge rallies leading up to the ballot, including one Friday night that local media reported drew a crowd of 40,000.
IN PHOTOS: Huge Rally for Iraqi Kurdish Independence VoteView full gallery