IRBIL, Iraq — The leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region defended an independence referendum planned for later this month during a visit Tuesday to the oil-rich Kirkuk province, the epicenter of a long-running dispute with Iraq’s central government.
Iraq’s parliament, meanwhile, rejected the referendum in a nonbinding resolution, calling it unconstitutional and a threat to the country’s unity.
Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold the referendum on Sept. 25 in three governorates that make up their self-ruled region as well as disputed areas that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, insisted that holding the referendum in Kirkuk is legal.
‘‘Kirkuk will remain as safe and secure as it is now, kept safe by the peshmerga,’’ Barzani said, referring to the Kurdish forces that control the city. ‘‘We will not compromise Kirkuk’s identity. We would rather give up our own rights than to compromise the rights of the ethnic minorities that live here.’’
Kirkuk is home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Christians. Kurdish forces took control of the province and other disputed areas in 2014, when the Islamic State group swept across the country.