Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has declared that the "time has come" for the country's Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood, a move likely to raise tensions with Baghdad.
But even if the various political challenges to independence are resolved, the major economic problems the region faces due to low oil prices are another bar to independence.
"The time has come and the conditions are now suitable for the people to make a decision through a referendum on their future," Barzani said in a statement released Wednesday.
"This referendum would not necessarily lead to (an) immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the people of Kurdistan about their future," said Barzani, who has remained in power despite the expiration of his term as president.
Barzani, who has made similar calls in the past, did not specify when the vote would take place.
The region officially includes three provinces, but Kurdish forces now hold parts of four more that the federal government wants to maintain control in.
Federal forces fled positons in various northern areas in the summer of 2014 when facing an offensive by DAESH, allowing Kurdish forces to gain or solidify control over areas claimed by both them and Baghdad.
Oil-rich Kirkuk province, which is mostly held by Kurdish peshmerga forces, will be a particular point of contention due to the wealth of natural resources there.
Turkey's assent would also be essential for moves toward Kurdish statehood to proceed, as Ankara is a key economic partner of Iraqi Kurdistan, both in terms of oil exports and other trade and investments. Barzani last month instructed his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to work with other parties to find a mechanism to hold the promised referendum on independence.
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