Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Wednesday called for Iraq's Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood, AFP reported.
"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.
"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," Barzani added.
Iraqi Kurdish forces are a main US partner in fighting Daesh militants in Iraq.
Both the referendum for independence - which is opposed by the Baghdad government - and the issue of which areas covered by a referendum will likely raise tensions between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdish region, which has been autonomous for several years.
Iraqi Kurdistan officially comprises three provinces, but Kurdish forces now control areas of four more provinces, over which Baghdad wishes to maintain control.
During the advance of Daesh in summer 2014, Iraqi forces fled positions in northern Iraq, paving the way for Kurdish forces to gain control over areas of disputed territory.
Due to the wealth of oil resources in Kirkuk province, held primarily by Kurdish peshmerga forces, this province will likely be a particular point of contention between the Kurds and the Baghdad government.
The autonomous Kurdish region has been independently exporting oil via Turkey since a deal between the Kurdish provinces and Baghdad collapsed last year. However, both Kurdistan and Baghdad are facing a financial crisis due to plunging oil prices.
Financial stability is likely to be the greatest obstacle in seeking independence through a referendum, as Kurdistan does not have access to the same international loans and bond markets that Baghdad can use in order to remain solvent.
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