AA:US urges 'unified Iraq' as country's Kurds vote

by Garry Watts September 26, 2017, 0:15
AA:US urges 'unified Iraq' as country's Kurds vote

Iraqi Kurds were going to the polls on Monday to vote on whether to support independence from Baghdad in a historic but non-binding referendum that has raised regional tensions and fears of instability.

Tehran has also increased pressure, announcing on Sunday it had blocked all flights to and from the region at Baghdad's request.

Peshmerga forces cast their ballots in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) controversial referendum at a military polling station in Rashkin village of Erbil, Iraq on 25 September 2017.

The Kurds also say the vote acknowledges their contribution in confronting Islamic State after it overwhelmed the Iraqi army in 2014 and seized control of a third of Iraq. Iran has a Kurdish population, but they have not experienced the same level of violence as Kurds in Turkey and Syria have in recent years. The regional authorities organized the referendum without the consent of Baghdad.

For Iraqi Kurds - part of the largest ethnic group left stateless when the Ottoman empire collapsed a century ago - the referendum offered a historic opportunity despite intense worldwide pressure to call it off.

Hundreds of worldwide media outlets and observers have registered to oversee the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum process that concludes with local voting on Monday. "Discrimination between Iraqi citizens on the nationalist and ethnic foundation exposes Iraq to dangers known only by God", al-Abadi said from Baghdad.

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"The land borders between Iran and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are open and these borders have not been closed", the ministry said, adding that only air borders between Iran and this region were now closed. The article asserted that the referendum and a future independent Kurdistan will "create a link" with Israel and that this relationship will be a "fatal blow" to Barzani.

Barzani addressed concerns that Turkey would shut its border with the Kurdish region following the vote, saying he hoped Turkey would leave the crossing open.

The conflict has been largely peaceful until now, but in recent days both sides have threatened to use military force to protect their interests.

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.

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.


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