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Kurds in Iraq step toward independence

Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq have launched the first step toward implementing a referendum on the autonomous region seeking independence from the war-torn country.

Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, asked the local parliament on Thursday to set up an electoral committee for the referendum.

Barzani says he intends to hold the vote within several months.

The Kurds account for 20 percent of Iraq's population and have long been at odds with the Iraqi government.

Their troops took Kirkuk, which hosts one of the country's largest oil fields, during a Sunni militant offensive against the central government.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is strongly against Kurdish independence. It could also affect Turkey which has a Kurdish population in the country.

Jul. 3, 2014 - Updated 22:31 UTC