Iraq's Supreme Federal Court ruled on Monday a September 25 Kurdish independence referendum was unconstitutional and the results void, strengthening Baghdad's hand in a stand-off with the Kurdish region watched closely by neighbouring Turkey and Iran.
The Kurdistan Regional Government did not directly say whether it accepted the effective cancellation of the vote, but its new prime minister called for a third party to oversee talks between Iraq's central government and the Kurds.
The KRG also called on the international community, including the United Nations, European Union and non-governmental organisations, to intervene and help lift what it called "restrictive" sanctions imposed by Baghdad in retaliation for the referendum.
Kurds voted overwhelmingly to break away from Iraq in the referendum, defying the central government in Baghdad and alarming neighbouring Turkey and Iran who have their own Kurdish minorities.
"The Federal Court issued the decision to consider the Kurdish region's referendum unconstitutional and this ruling is final," a court spokesman said. "The power of this ruling should now cancel all the results of the referendum."
The court is responsible for settling disputes between Iraq’s central government and its regions, including Kurdistan. The verdict is not subject to appeal.
A statement from Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said: "We call upon everybody to ... avoid taking any step which violates the constitution and law."
The court had ruled on November 6 that no region or province can secede. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said last week it would respect that verdict, signalling a new phase in efforts to restart negotiations over the region's future.
The Iraqi government responded to the Kurdish independence referendum by seizing the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and other territory disputed between the Kurds and the central government. It also banned direct flights to Kurdistan and demanded control over border crossings.
Long-serving Kurdish president Masoud Barzani stepped down over the affair and the regional government led by his nephew Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has tried to negotiate an end to the confrontation.
In a news conference following Monday's ruling, Nechirvan Barzani said the court's ruling was reached unilaterally, without input from KRG representatives, and called for a third party to oversee negotiations between Baghdad and the Kurds.