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Kurdish government holds meetings in Baghdad on eve of independence vote

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - A delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government held talks with the Iraqi ruling Shi’ite coalition in Baghdad on Saturday, two days before a planned referendum on secession from Iraq.

“The delegation will discuss the referendum but the referendum is still happening,” Hoshiyar Zebari, a top adviser to Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, told Reuters. “We said we would talk to Baghdad before, during and after the referendum.”

The KRG has said the vote is intended to give its autonomous territory a legitimate mandate to achieve independence from Iraq through dialogue with Baghdad and neighbouring powers Turkey and Iran. Ankara and Tehran are worried that the vote could revive the separatist aspirations of their own Kurdish populations.

The Kurdish delegation met with representatives of the Shi’ite ruling coalition in Baghdad, and with the Iraqi president, Fuad Masum, himself a Kurd, whose role is largely ceremonial.

Executive powers are concentrated in the hands of the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, a Shi’ite. Abadi’s office said he didn’t meet the delegation.

Hemin Hawrami, an assistant to Barzani, tweeted: “Our delegation in Baghdad to deliver a message: We’re ready for talks after 25/9.”

Turkey said on Saturday it would take security and other steps in response to the planned referendum, which it called a “terrible mistake”.

The Turkish parliament convened for a debate and vote on extending a mandate that authorises Turkish troop deployments to Iraq and Syria, and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim alluded to possible military moves.

The United States has urged the KRG to cancel the vote, while the U.N. Security Council warned in a statement of its “potentially destabilising” impact on Iraq.

Washington and other Western powers say the vote distracts from the fight against the Islamic State militant group.

The KRG counters that its Peshmerga fighters have made a crucial contribution to that fight.

(This story corrects to say meeting was with the Iraqi ruling Shi’te coalition in Baghdad, not with the government in Baghdad)

Reporting by Raya Jalabi; writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Kevin Liffey