Hundreds of people have staged a rally in support of the "No for Now" campaign to express their opposition to the Kurdistan independence referendum set for September 25.
Shaswar Qadir, a businessman and the owner of NRT media outlet, told the crowd at Sulaimani Stadium on Saturday evening that they refuse to believe the Kurdish leadership's "lies" that the goal of the September vote is to establish an independent state.
He said the referendum is to distract people from the real problems, such as the ongoing financial crisis and shortage of basic services.
Rabun Maruf, spokesperson for the no campaign, said that it is also an attempt by the Kurdish parties to forget that the "post held by Mr. Barzani is illegitimate."
The term of President Masoud Barzani, who favours a yes vote, expired in August 2015 but was extended in a controversial court ruling until the next presidential election takes place.
Barzani has said that he will resign from his post if the people of Kurdistan vote against leaving Iraq. He also ruled out himself and members of his family from running for office in the presidential election scheduled for November 1.
Making reference to Barzani's statement that he would rather die of starvation than give up on the referendum, Qadir said that only leaders who are "losers" make such remarks. He said his campaign wants people to stand on their own feet and thrive.
Qadir said that voting no means the "elite rulers" can no longer "think on our behalf, or make decisions on our behalf."
The majority of parties in the Kurdistan Region, including Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), participated in a meeting where they decided to hold the vote.
Qadir claimed that those who support the 'Yes' vote want to create a kingdom to be ruled by a king.
"They are naive if they think they can establish a kingdom in Kurdistan," Qadir told the crowd.
Many in the crowd waved the Kurdistan flag along with that of the 'No for Now' campaign. They chanted "Shaswar" on several occasions as they listened to his speech.
Barzani has said the future independent Kurdistan will be federal, democratic, and a republic that will give each province the right to control their own affairs, except for sovereign matters such as the army.
The Sulaimani football club, in whose stadium the event was held, named Qadir its honorary president when the businessman offered financial support to renovate the arena.
The local government in Sulaimani, controlled by Gorran and the PUK, stated Friday that the rally did not have a permit and warned they would organizers responsible if something went wrong.
Qadir told the crowd that the movement he leads has plans post September 25.
"Our and your work begins from September 26, for a greater work," Qadir stated.
He said the people of Kurdistan should be given the opportunity to bring about change through civic activities or "they will have an excuse to resort to non-civic struggle," he warned.
Commenting on the 'No for Now' campaign's Sulaimani origins, Qadir said, they would reach Erbil, though it may take time, making comparisons to the civil rights movement in the United States.
"The revolution begins from a remote village, but ends in the capital," Qadir said. The Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi government in the early 1990s began from the city of Rania, but soon spread to the rest of Kurdistan, he added.
He argued that the Kurdistan Region is already acting like a state and that if the leadership were genuine in their calls for independence, a referendum would not have been needed. He said a referendum as a tool is not needed to establish a state or should only be the final step.
Kurdish parties who throw their support behind the vote argue that an independent Kurdistan will enjoy all the sovereign powers currently exercised by the Baghdad government, including an independent economy and the right to obtain weapons and training needed for the Peshmerga.
Qadir told the crowd to cast 'No' vote on September 25, arguing against calls to either boycott the referendum or spoil their ballots.
Official campaigning for the referendum began on Tuesday and will continue until the 23rd.