Turkey should respect the decision of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to hold a referendum on independence and support dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad, a chief adviser to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said on Wednesday.
Iraq's Kurds have brushed aside international warnings that their planned Sept. 25 referendum could trigger conflict with Baghdad at a time when the fight against Islamic State is not yet won.
Iraq's neighbors Turkey, Iran and Syria, all oppose secession, fearing that separatism will spread to their own ethnic Kurdish populations.
"We are exercising our democratic right ... As people in Turkey voting for their constitutional reform exercised their own democratic right, so we are exercising our democratic right to see what the people of Kurdistan want," Hemin Hawrami told a gathering at the Turkish think-tank SETA in Ankara.
He was referring to a referendum in April in which Turks voted to hand President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.
Hawrami said the referendum concerned only Iraqi Kurds and had no relation to Kurds in other parts of the region, adding that the vote was not an attempt to change Iraq's existing international borders.
"We expect Turkey and other countries to understand the legitimate aspirations of Kurdistani people. We will start a serious long, patient process (of dialogue) with Baghdad," he added.
Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government has rejected any move by the mostly Sunni Muslim Kurds to press unilaterally for independence, insisting that any decision about the future of the country should involve all its other parts.
Hisham al-Alawi, Iraq's ambassador to Ankara, told the same panel on Wednesday that Iraq's constitution had been approved by a majority of Iraqis and demonstrated that the people had agreed to remain unified.
"The fact that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis voted for this current constitution that identifies Iraq as a united, federal, democratic country is a clear indication that... we have agreed to be part of a unified united Iraq," al-Alawi said.