By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Supreme Federal Court ruled on Monday that no region or province can secede, strengthening the government's hand as it seeks to prevent a repeat of September's Kurdish independence vote.
The ruling was a response to a request from the central government in Baghdad to put an end to any "wrong misinterpretation" of the constitution and assert the unity of Iraq, a court spokesman said.
Soon after, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi urged the northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region to abide by the court's decision.
"We call on the region to clearly state its commitment to non-separation or independence from Iraq," he said in a statement. There was no immediate reaction from Kurdish authorities.
Iraq’s Kurds voted overwhelmingly to break away from Iraq in a referendum held on Sept. 25, defying the central government in Baghdad as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran who have their own Kurdish minorities.
Iraqi government forces and the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces launched a surprise offensive on Oct. 16 in retaliation. Government forces managed to wrest back control of the oil city of Kirkuk and other disputed territories.
Abadi said the government was now "taking the necessary measures to impose federal authorities" without going into further details. Baghdad was committed to "preserving Iraq's unity and preventing any attempt for separation," he added.
The ruling would strengthen Abadi's hand in future dealings with the Kurds, said Ahmed Younis, a Baghdad-based constitutional expert.
"The court ruling has put an end to the Kurdish attempt to breakaway from Iraq," he added.
The court is responsible for settling disputes between Iraq’s central government and the country's regions and provinces, including Kurdistan. Its decisions are final and mandatory for all parties according to the constitution, however it has no mechanism to enforce its ruling in the Kurdish region.
Earlier on Monday, the Kurdish region's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani reiterated his call to resolve its issues with the central government through dialogue and not through force.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)