Stating that an independent nation is a “natural right” of the Kurdish people, Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, asked Iraq's parliament to prepare for a referendum on a sovereign Kurdistan, Al-Jazeera reported Thursday.

Barzani, who has led the Kurdistan Democratic Party since 1979 and has been the president of Iraqi Kurdistan since 2005, claimed that an independent Kurdish nation would be “a powerful weapon” and further validate the Kurdish call for self-determination. Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, has been a semi-autonomous region since 1991 and has its own local parliament and government. 

Although Barzani asked the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, led by Nouri al-Maliki, to form an independent electoral commission that would be tasked with organizing the referendum, he has refrained from setting a deadline to the process. In an interview to BBC on Tuesday, however, Barzani had stated that a referendum was only “a matter of months.”

Asserting that Iraq is already “effectively partitioned,” he said that the “goal of Kurdistan now is independence,” according to BBC. Demands for independence have been repeated many times in the past. In 2005, Kurds voted strongly in favor of a sovereign state in a non-binding vote. 

However, the latest call for a referendum comes at a time when al-Maliki is battling to stem the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the north. The Sunni ISIS has laid claim to regions between Aleppo in Syria and Diyala in north-eastern Iraq and imposed a caliphate in the area, in a brief and violent offensive that has displaced thousands.

Also in contention is the oil city of Kirkuk, which has been in Kurdish control since federal government forces withdrew in June. Barzani had earlier issued a statement blaming the Iraqi government for instability in the region and said that Kurdish defense forces would remain in control of the city.

Maliki, speaking to Al-Jazeera, called the demands for a referendum unacceptable and alleged that Barzani was attempting to “exploit current event in order to impose a reality.”

Earlier this week, work in the Iraqi parliament was brought to a halt as Kurdish members staged a walkout over the issue of independence for the Kurdistan region.