Iraqi Kurdish president asks parliament to prepare for independence vote

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By Isabel Coles ARBIL Iraq (Reuters) - The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region asked its parliament on Thursday to plan a referendum on Kurdish independence, signaling his impatience with Baghdad, which is fighting to repel Sunni insurgents and struggling to form a new government. The United States has urged the Kurds to stand with Baghdad as Iraq faces an onslaught by Sunni Muslim militants led by an al Qaeda offshoot who have seized large parts of the north and west and are threatening to march on the capital. Iraq’s 5 million Kurds, who have governed themselves in relative peace since the 1990s, have expanded their territory by as much as 40 percent in recent weeks as the sectarian insurgency has threatened to split the country. Kurdish President Massoud Barzani asked lawmakers to form a committee to organize a referendum on independence and pick a date for the vote.