Iraqi Kurdish students of the Salahaddin University hold posters of Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani during a protest in his support in Arbil, the capital of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, on October 30, 2017. Long-time Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, the architect of the referendum, announced on October 29, 2017 he is stepping down after it led to Iraq’s recapture of almost all disputed territories that had been under Kurdish control. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED
The United States on Monday commended former Iraqi-Kurdish president Massud Barzani’s decision to step down, pledging to work closely with his nephew and prime minister Nechirvan Barzani.
“Barzani is a historic figure and courageous leader of his people, most recently in our common fight to destroy ISIS,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, a day after Barzani’s resignation.
“This decision represents an act of statesmanship during a difficult period.”
Barzani, the 71-year-old president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, stepped down on Sunday amid diplomatic and military fall-out from a calamitous decision to hold an independence referendum.
The pro-independence camp won a crushing victory in the non-binding September 25 poll, but at the cost of alienating Kurdistan’s international supporters and provoking a stern response from Baghdad.
Since the vote, Iraqi state forces have reasserted control over swathes of oil-rich Kurdish-held territory, including the large city of Kirkuk and a key border-crossing to Turkey.
Washington, which has worked closely with both Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the battle against the Islamic State group, had begged Barzani not to go ahead with the vote, to no avail.
The State Department saluted the “strong leadership” of Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose US-armed and trained forces have pushed back Barzani’s US-backed Peshmerga fighters.
But it also called on him to pursue a new dialogue with the Kurds to stabilize the situation and pledged that it would support prime minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy Qubad Talabani as the region plans for new presidential elections.