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ARBIL Iraq (Reuters) - Kurdish pop singer Helly Luv says she will not be put off by death threats from Iraqi Islamist militants since release of her first music video but, drawing on its title, insists she will "Risk It All" to help a push for an independent Kurdistan.
Iraqi-born Luv, 25, has seen her video rack up more than 2.5 million views on YouTube since its release in February; but she has faced criticism for what some see as provocative imagery in the clip accompanying the modern mix of dance, hip-hop and traditional Middle Eastern music.
Luv said the video, which includes exploding petrol bombs, backing dancers with AK-47 rifles, and the singer dancing in a mid-thigh silver dress atop a citadel, represents the Kurdish spirit and struggle for an independent state.
"There were death threats from many Islamic groups... it was a really hard time for me," Luv said in an interview in Arbil, the autonomous Kurdistan region's capital. "(But) my whole message is that, Kurdish people, we need to risk everything for our dreams and fight for our country."
Iraqi Kurdistan's population of roughly 5 million people has enjoyed a degree of independence from Baghdad since the end of the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.
But the Kurds are now closer than ever to leaving Iraq altogether, with Massoud Barzani, leader of their autonomous region, calling on his parliament to ready a referendum on independence after the latest violence in the country.
Critics argue that Kurdish leaders' actions could lead to broader chaos in Iraq and beyond its borders, promoting rebellions in Kurdish areas of neighboring states.
Luv's mother was a Kurdish 'peshmerga' fighter before the family emigrated during the Iran-Iraq War.
"You can see in Kurdistan right now that people don’t want war, we have been through so much already," Luv said." We have fought so much to get this freedom, so we're not going to let nobody take it away."
Her management team declined to say whether any of the death threats she had received came from the Islamic State, the group previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), saying they did not want to give any of the groups or individuals publicity.
The Islamic State's lightning takeover of the northern city of Mosul and advance towards Baghdad stirred the latest crisis in Iraq, and saw the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government expand its borders and take over oil areas as Iraqi military forces retreated.
Luv recently visited Kurdish peshmerga forces that have been involved in skirmishes with the Islamic State.
Photos on her Facebook page show her wearing an old-style peshmerga uniform, red and black scarf and aviator sunglasses, standing before ranks of black-uniformed Kurdish troops.
By email she said she had been close to Mosul, the Iraqi power base of the Islamic State, which lies just 10 km (6 miles) from territory controlled by forces of the Kurdish Regional Government.
"I wanted my first single to be 'Risk it All’ to let people know that’s what I represent," Luv said.
As a baby, Luv spent nine months in a refugee camp in Turkey before her family emigrated to Finland. She moved to Los Angeles at 18 to pursue a music career and after struggling for several years was picked up by LA-based independent label G2 Music.
Many of the dancers and children who feature in her first video, which was filmed in the Kurdish-controlled regional capital Arbil, were Kurdish refugees fleeing civil war in Syria.
"After the video I decided I wanted to visit them and thank them for everything they’d done. So I went to one of the schools inside the camp and gave them books and toys,” Luv said.
“I owe those Syrian Kurds a lot as really without them the video wouldn’t have been such a big success."
"Risk it All" has since featured on an album for the 2014 FIFA soccer World Cup.
Speaking before Germany’s victory in Sunday night's World Cup final, Luv said she had wished that the hosts or Argentina would win the tournament. But she hopes in a few years to be cheering on another team.
"Nothing would make me more proud than to see Kurdistan there,” Luv said. “I believe the dream of independence will come.”
Reporting by David Sheppard; Editing by Michael Roddy and Ralph Boulton