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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it was concerned that a non-binding independence referendum planned this year in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will distract from "more urgent priorities" such as the defeat of Islamic State militants.

While saying it appreciated the "legitimate aspirations" of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, the State Department said in a statement it supports a "unified, federal, stable and democratic Iraq" and had voiced concerns about the planned September referendum to Kurdish authorities.

"We ... encourage the regional authorities to engage with the government of Iraq on the full range of important issues, including the future of relations between Baghdad and Erbil, on the bases of the Iraqi constitution," the department said.

(Reporting by David Alexander)

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