Iraqi Kurdish leader seeks to reassure Christians over independence vote

ReutersA Yazidi refugee in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Iraqi Kurdish leader has sought to assure Christians in the region that they will be protected in the wake of the independence referendum coming on September 25.

Masud Barzani said that as Kurdistan 'is taking steps towards independence, the needs and the rights of our Christian brothers and sisters will be protected at all levels, and so brotherhood and social harmony in Kurdistan will be strengthened,' according to the news agency Fides.

The comments come after Barzani, who is president of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), announced the forthcoming vote in June.

According to Fides: 'Clearly Barzani's intention is to gain the support of the Christians in those territories for the proclamation of the independence of Kurdistan.'

On Sunday, Barzani issued a statement saying: 'The sole medicine for all our suffering and the only guarantee that these disaster do not happen again, is to walk towards independence.'

He added: 'I repeat that the Christian brothers and sisters together with those of other different communities in Kurdistan, in the past, the present and in the future have shared and share still today bad times and good times because they have the same destiny'.

Neighbouring states including Turkey, Syria and Iran, which all have large and sometimes restive Kurdish populations, have in the past resisted moves towards Kurdish independence.