Iraq’s autonomous Kurds, preparing politically to separate, are testing the mood in international capitals.
Washington has said it prefers a united Iraq.
This comes after a Kurdish decision to hold a referendum on whether to become a distinct state.
An activist said: “We, the Kurdish people, demand the establishment of an independent Kurdish country!”
The Kurdish Region’s President Massoud Barzani asked its parliament on Thursday to prepare the way.
Iraq’s five million Kurds have ruled themselves within Iraq in relative peace since the 1990s.
They have expanded their territory by up to 40 percent in recent weeks as Sunni Islamist militants seized vast stretches of western and northern Iraq.
They see a fully sovereign state as within their grasp.
Barzani did not offer a timetable but said: “Prepare for a referendum to decide on self-determination. We will be in a better position and we will have better weapons in our hands. It is time to decide about our self-determination and not to wait for other people to decide for us.”
Kurdish media quoted Barzani as saying: “We have waited 10 years and things only got worse. We have to think of ourselves and our future.”
Referring to the seizure of disputed territory by Kurdish forces known as the ‘peshmerga’, Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused the Kurds on Wednesday of “exploiting current events”.
A peshmerga volunteer said: “Maybe men are ready to fight but I am more prepared. Speaking for myself as a woman, I am very well trained to go to the front lines to confront the ISIL extremists.”
In Baghdad, the first meeting of the Iraqi parliament since its election in April collapsed without agreement. Kurds and minority Sunnis walked out, complaining that Shi’ite lawmakers had not yet determined who they would put forward as premier for another term.