ARBIL - Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers Friday approved holding a referendum on the independence of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on September 25 as opposition members boycotted the parliament’s first session in two years.

The region’s vice-president Jaafar Aimenky, who chaired the session, announced the poll would go ahead after 65 out of 68 lawmakers present voted in favour.

After the show of hands, lawmakers stood to sing the Kurdish anthem while others raised flags to the sound of applause.

Opposition parties Goran and Jamaa Islamiya earlier said they would boycott the session.

The 111-member parliament in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil had not convened for two years over disputes between political parties.

Neighbouring Turkey and Iran fear the referendum could stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizeable Kurdish minorities.

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Washington opposes the referendum on the grounds it would weaken joint Arab-Kurdish military operations which have helped to send the Islamic State group into retreat in both Iraq and Syria.

The United States has proposed unspecified “alternatives” to the poll. Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani has pledged to give a rapid response.

KRG President Massoud Barzani said earlier on Friday the vote would not be delayed, despite pressing requests from the United States and other Western powers worried that the tension between Baghdad and Erbil would distract from the war on Islamic State militants who occupy parts of Iraq and Syria.

“We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” Barzani said in a speech at a rally in the Kurdish region, referring to talks held with US and Western envoys this week in Erbil.

Gorran, the main opposition movement to Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), boycotted the parliament session in Erbil. A dispute between Gorran and the KDP caused the assembly to suspend its sessions in 2015.

MPs from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) attended the session, ensuring the required quorum. The PUK is historic rival of the KDP but is supporting the referendum plan.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia paramilitary groups have threatened to dislodge the Kurdish forces from the oil-rich Kirkuk region, which is due to take part in the referendum.

Kirkuk is home to sizeable Arab and Turkmen populations and is outside the KRG official boundaries. The Kurds claim it as part of their homeland.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized Kirkuk and other disputed territories when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of Islamic State in 2014. The Kurdish move prevented Kirkuk’s oilfields from falling in the hands of the militants.

“We’ve been waiting for more than 100 years” to have a state, KDP MP Omed Khoshnaw told Reuters after the vote.

”There is no other way to guarantee that genocide will never be repeated,” he told the assembly earlier, referring to the persecution of the Kurds and their expulsion from areas including Kirkuk under former president Saddam Hussein.