'We hope for a unified Iraq to annihilate ISIS, and certainly a unified Iraq to push back on Iran,' White House says.
The U.S. on Monday emphasized the importance of maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity as the country's Kurdish minority votes in a non-binding referendum on their future with Iraq.
“We hope for a unified Iraq to annihilate ISIS, and certainly a unified Iraq to push back on Iran,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee-Sanders told reporters, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Daesh.
The U.S., along with Turkey, the U.K., Iran and the Iraqi central government have urged Erbil to abandon the controversial poll but the vote went ahead Monday unhindered.
Iraqis in areas held by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad -- voted to decide whether to secede from Iraq.
Earlier Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would take political, economic, commercial and security steps against the Kurdish Regional Government.
Iraq’s central government has threatened to intervene militarily if the vote leads to violence.
KRG leader Masoud Barzani, however, said a “Yes” vote would not result in an automatic declaration of independence but would simply lead to further negotiations with Baghdad.
The State Department said last week the referendum would preclude the possibility of negotiations with the Baghdad central government, and present a high cost for "all Iraqis, including Kurds.”
It cited disruptions in the fight against Daesh, which the KRG's peshmerga forces support, as well as worsening trade relations with neighbors and the destabilizing nature of holding the referendum in internationally disputed areas.
In contrast, "genuine dialogue" promises to resolve Iraqi Kurds’ grievances and establish a new course in Baghdad-Erbil relations, the department said at the time.