Iraq's Kurdish Region Votes In Controversial Independence Referendum

The referendum is opposed by the Iraqi central government in Baghdad as well as the neighbouring countries of Turkey and Iran, besides major worldwide powers.

"With the request of Iraq's central government, all Iranian flights to Sulaimaniyah and Erbil as well as flights passing through our airspace to the Kurdistan region have been suspended", said Kayvan Khosravi, the spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, on September 24.

Against this backdrop, Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, expressed concern on Monday about the potentially destabilising effects of the referendum, calling on Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to resolve differences through dialogue and compromise.

Karim al-Nuri, a head of the Badr Brigade which forms part of the powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary units that have fought alongside the army in the drive against the Islamic State (IS) group, pointed to the flashpoint region of Kirkuk.

Despite fears in disputed territories — Iraqi territory claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad — Barzani said he didn't expect violence to follow the vote, explaining that Iraq's military and the Kurdish fighters known as the peshmerga have "good coordination in the war against terror". He said the council had held a special meeting on the referendum and Baghdad's request.

The disputed areas are the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, as well as parts of Nineveh, Diyala and Salaheddin provinces.

On August 29, 22 of the 24 councilors present in the 41-member Kirkuk council voted in favor of holding the Kurdish independence referendum.

However, the Iraqi government has called the referendum unconstitutional.

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"The referendum does not mean independence will happen tomorrow, nor are we redrawing borders", he said in Erbil.

The non-binding vote on the secession of the semi-autonomous region has irked the central government.

Erdogan said a border crossing with Iraq had been closed in one direction and that Turkey would shut it entirely. "It threatens Iraq, peaceful coexistence among Iraqis and is a danger to the region".

The referendum could strengthen hard-liners like former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is widely believed to be seeking a return to power, as well as Iran-backed factions and militias.

Turkey's Customs Minister Bulent Tufenkci said tight controls have been imposed on traffic at Habur border gate with northern Iraq.

Turkey has also opposed the referendum and warned that the disintegration of Iraq has the potential to turn into a major global conflict.

Even though the vote is nonbinding, the Kurdish leadership sees it as a way to send a signal to Baghdad about the region's desire for independence.

  • Adam Floyd