Reuters International

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - An expected "yes" vote in an independence referendum would strengthen Kurdistan's hand in talks with Baghdad rather than leading to an automatic break from Iraq, a senior ally of Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani said on Friday.

Hoshiyar Zebari also said a vote for secession would not mean the Kurds annexed either the oil-rich region of Kirkuk or three other disputed regions in Kurdish-controlled territory.

"You will hear people saying we are for Iraq’s unity, territorial integrity, we want dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil, we understand all this," he said.

"A referendum is a democratic process, no democratic country can oppose having a referendum; we are not talking about independence, we are talking about the referendum."

(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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