Kurdish Autonomous Region President Massoud Barzani
Kurdish Autonomous Region President Massoud BarzaniREUTERS

Iraq’s Kurdish minority will hold a referendum this September to determine whether to remain a part of the oil-rich state, or seek independence for autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Kurdistan is recognized as a self-governing autonomous region within Iraq by the nation’s 2005 constitution. The precise boundaries of autonomous Kurdistan are disputed, however.

The Iraqi central government has opposed broadening Kurdistan’s recognized boundaries, and insisted that the area remain under Iraqi sovereign control.

Despite the Shi’ite-led government’s position, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani declared Wednesday night that a referendum would be held on independence, to determine whether Kurdistan would remain a part of Iraq – or whether the Kurdish people will finally have an independent state of their own.

"I am pleased to announce that the date for the independence referendum has been set for Monday, Sept. 25, 2017," Barzani declared in a tweet.

The referendum will include disputed areas claimed by Kurdistan, but not recognized as part of the autonomous region by the central government, Barzani aide Hemin Hawrami said.

While observers expect Kurds to strongly back independence, the referendum is unlikely to automatically translate to a sovereign Kurdistan separate from Iraq. A resounding “yes” vote, however, would provide independence advocates a powerful mandate in their negotiations with the central government.