12 December 2017
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Kurdistan votes for independence from Iraq with 93% saying 'yes'

Thursday, 28 September 2017 21:19

Kurdistan has voted overwhelmingly to secede from Iraq, in a historic referendum which brings it one step closer to a century-old dream of statehood but risks fuelling a new regional conflict.

The referendum passed with 92.73 percent support and turnout of more than 72 percent of the 3.3 million registered to vote.

Hendrin Mohammed, the head of the Kurdish region's election commission, declared that out of the 3 million valid ballots, 2.9 million were for independence and 224,464 were against. The rest were spoiled or disregarded.  

The vote was held across the autonomous Kurdish region's three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, who called the referendum, believes the "Yes" vote will give them a mandate to start negotiations on secession with the central government in Baghdad.

However, Iraq has said it will not recognise the vote and that it was not willing to negotiate. 

On Wednesday it stepped up efforts to isolate the Kurdish region, demanding that foreign governments close their diplomatic missions in the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and threatening to close its air space. 

In response to the pressure, international airlines began cancelling flights to the region. 

 “We will impose the rule of Iraq in all of the areas of the KRG, with the strength of the constitution,” Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said. “There will be no fighting between the sons of one country, but we will impose the law, you will see.” 

Iraq and Kurdistan’s neighbour Turkey have responded with more force than Mr Barzani had likely anticipated. 

Turkey, which is worried its own Kurdish minority will be inspired by the vote, has threatened to impose sanctions on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). 

Bilateral trade between Turkey and the KRG is worth more than $10bn (£7.4bn) a year.

Nearly all of Kurdistan's allies, with the exception of Israel, have warned they will not recognise the results, saying it was destabilising at a time when the country is still struggling with the threat of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. 

Initial euphoria in Erbil, which saw huge nightly rallies in the run-up to the referendum, has been tempered by fears that the realisation if its dreams may come at the cost of international isolation. 

The Kurds were left without a state of their own when the Ottoman empire crumbled a century ago. Around 30 million are scattered in northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria and Iran.

 The autonomous region they control in Iraq is the closest the Kurds have come in modern times to a state. It has flourished, largely remaining at peace while the rest of Iraq has been in a continuous state of civil war for 14 years.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, they have had to carefully balance their ambitions for full independence with the threat of a backlash from their neighbours and the reluctance of Washington to redraw borders.

Source: The Telegraph

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