Massoud Barzani
The President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani (L) visits Kirkuk Reuters

French oil major Total has said it is too early to know whether the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region will become an important player in international oil markets, as Kurdish leaders seek to engineer a vote on independence.

"It is too early to make a judgement. You can't yet see what we call a production curve... You have to avoid underestimating or overestimating the potential," Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie told Reuters in an interview.

"Why hasn't Kurdistan got the right to develop its reserves? I've defended that and it has caused me a couple of problems with Baghdad," he said.

Baghdad is facing a growing threat from a coalition of Sunni militants, led by the notoriously brutal Islamic State (IS.)

With violence spreading throughout parts of Northern and Western Iraq, forces loyal to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seized the major oil hub of Kirkuk after it was vacated by central government forces.

Speaking on July 3, President of the KRG Massoud Barzani called on parliament to begin making plans for a public referendum on independence.

"The time has come to determine our fate and we should not wait for other people to determine it for us," Barzani said.

The KRG is hopeful oil output could spike in the next few years to 1 million barrels of oil per day. It has been involved in a long running dispute with the central government over whether Arbil has the right to sell oil independently of Baghdad.

Over the past two months, the KRG has begun to export oil via Turkey on to the global market, although Baghdad has insisted any buyers of Kurdish oil would be purchasing smuggled produce.

Arbil's optimism is fuelled in part by the range of deals it has signed with Western companies. Total purchased stakes in two exploration blocks in Kurdistan in 2012, drawing Baghdad's ire.

De Margerie suggested that Kurdistan would struggle to compete with Iraq as an oil producer: "Kurdistan isn't Baghdad - one shouldn't make this mistake."

"If Kurdistan were a huge petroleum region, we wouldn't have waited until 2010," he said.

Companies should also be wary of the increasingly alarming security threats on in the regions surrounding Kurdistan, he said.

"There is escalation in Syria. Every time you want to simplify things because it suits you, those things refuse to be simplified."