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Kurdish leaders reject Baghdad demand to cancel independence vote, renew dialogue offer

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Kurdish leadership rejected on Sunday a demand by the Iraqi government that it cancels the outcome of an independence referendum as a precondition for talks to resolve the dispute.

Kurdish leaders who met to discuss the crisis in the town of Dokan renewed their offer to “resolve peacefully” the crisis with Baghdad.

“The Kurdish parties are ready for talks between Erbil and Baghdad,” they said in a statement, referring respectively to the seat of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and the federal capital of Iraq.

“The talks between Erbil and Baghdad should be under the supervision of international parties,” the statement added.

Among those at the meeting were KRG President Masoud Barzani, Iraqi President Fuad Masum -- a Kurd who holds a largely ceremonial position in the federal state -- and Hero Talabani, widow of Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader who died earlier this month.

They rejected what they described as “military threats” from Iraqi forces against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and pledged to defend Kurdish-held territory in case of an attack.

The KRG and the Shi’ite-led central government in Baghdad have been at loggerheads since the Sept. 25 vote and its loud call for Kurdish independence.

Tension between two parties has flared around the multi-ethnic oil city of Kirkuk, which Peshmerga forces took in 2014 when Iraqi security forces collapsed in the face of an Islamic State onslaught. The Peshmerga deployment prevented Kirkuk’s oilfields from falling into jihadist hands.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Catherine Evans

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