Iraq's Supreme Court has ordered the suspension of a referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. The semi-autonomous region plans to hold the vote on September 25.
A statement from the court on Monday said referendum procedures would be put on hold until it had examined the plebiscite's legality.
"We have received several complaints and this is why we decided to suspend the referendum," court spokesman Ayas al-Samouk told news agency AFP.
The semi-autonomous Kurdish area in the north of the country plans to hold the non-binding independence referendum on September 25 in the three provinces that make up the region, as well as disputed territories claimed by both the Kurdish region and Baghdad.
Monday's verdict came after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally requested the court consider the "the breakaway of any region or province from Iraq as unconstitutional."
It was not clear whether Kurdistan's local government would abide by the ruling.
Neighboring Turkey and Iran, as well as the United States and the United Nations, have urged the Kurdish region to put the vote on hold. They fear it could create tensions and add to instability as Iraqi forces battle the "Islamic State" extremist group.
Turkey, Iran and Syria are also concerned such an independence vote in Iraq could encourage their own Kurdish minorities to break away.
Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has ruled out postponing the vote, despite repeated objections from the Iraqi government. Instead, he has expressed hope that the referendum will push Baghdad to hold negotiations to pave the way for independence.
The Kurds are a non-Arab ethnic group numbering between 25 and 35 million people who are spread across parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Turkey, which has the largest Kurdish minority in the region, is worried a "Yes" vote would fuel separatism in its southeast, where troops are fighting insurgents of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Turkey's armed forces carried out a series of a military drills at the Iraqi border on Monday as part of a show of force ahead of the vote.
nm/kl (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)