Iraqi Kurds vote overwhelmingly for independence

UPDATE — 9/30, 10:39 a.m. EDT: The Iraqi government has started to crack down on Kurds in response to an overwhelming vote for independence earlier in the week.

Baghdad ordered a halt to all international flights in Iraq Kurdistan late Friday, and on Saturday, Iraqi troops in Turkey and Iran will move to the northern border to monitor immigration in and out of the region.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan also weighed in Saturday, saying Kurds opened “a wound in the region to twist the knife in,” with their vote, and “would pay the price,” for taking further steps to break away from Iraq.

 

Iraqi Kurds in the country’s northern region voted decisively to separate from Iraq and form an independent Kurdish republic on Monday.

One day following Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani declared victory, official results
announced by the High Elections and Referendum Commission indicate 92.7 percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots in favor of succession from Iraq.

3.3 million voters, 72 percent of those eligible to cast ballots, are believed to have participated in the plebiscite held in three Kurdish Governorates and some Kurdish-dominated areas of which remain the subject of dispute with Iraq.

Jubilant in the outcome of the vote, Barzani was measured in his words and said the referendum would not lead to an immediate declaration of independence, but would mark the beginning of negotiations with Baghdad.

Map showing Iraqi Kurdistan and areas controlled by Kurdish forces

Despite the outcome of the vote, not all players in the region shared Kurdish enthusiasm.  Ahead of the referendum, Turkey, Iraq and Iran stood in opposition over fear it will lead to regional destabilization.

Turkey’s direct response to the vote has since included mobilizing troops and armored units in its border with Iraq.

Similarly, the U.S. expressed strong objections, stating disputes between Iraq and the Kurds are best resolved in close collaboration with the U.S. and the UN.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi went so far as to declare the vote illegal, said it would never be considered as a basis for dialogue and stated emphatically Iraqi law would be enforced throughout the Kurdish region.

A stateless people since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, the Kurds suffered terribly under Baathist rule in Iraq, with tens of thousands ethnically cleansed in the 1970s and early 1980s.

However, the Kurds have enjoyed self-government since the 2003 invasion of Iraq and have seated a parliament with 111 representatives.  An asset, developing institutions of self-government has brought peace and stability to the region in contrast to sectarian strife overrunning the remainder of Iraq.

The group played an important role in toppling former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and have proved an invaluable ally in defeating ISIS.

 

[The Telegraph] [AP via thestar.com] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy AFP/Getty Images via CNBC]

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