Iraqi Kurdish leaders have announced that yesterday’s vote for Kurdish independence was a resounding “yes.”

According to the Kurdish Rudaw news outlet’s live results page, as of this writing, 3,440,616 votes have been counted, with 91.83% voting yes.  Final results are expected Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said on Tuesday that Kurds had voted “yes” to independence in a referendum held in defiance of the government in Baghdad and which had angered their neighbors and their U.S. allies.

The Kurds, who have ruled over an autonomous region within Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, consider Monday’s referendum to be an historic step in a generations-old quest for a state of their own.

. . . . “We may face hardship but we will overcome,” Barzani said, calling on world powers “to respect the will of millions of people” who voted in the referendum.

. . . . Earlier, the Kurdish Rudaw TV channel said an overwhelming majority, possibly over 90 percent, had voted “yes”. Final results are expected by Wednesday.

Iraq has, in response to the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum, ordered Kurdistan to close its airports.

The New York Times reports:

Iraq’s prime minister on Tuesday, angered by a vote on independence by his nation’s Kurdish minority, gave the country’s Kurdish region until Friday to surrender control of its two international airports or face a shutdown of international flights.

. . . .  The Kurdish regional government, which has its own parliament and military force, operates international airports in its capital, Erbil, and in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah. There is no domestic Kurdish airline in the autonomous region.

Iraq asked other countries last week to halt flights into the Kurdish region, but only Iran complied.

As we noted yesterday, Turkey and Iran fear that a positive outcome for Iraqi Kurds seeking independence will result in heightened tensions with their own Kurdish populations by inspiring them to also seek independence.

The New York Times continues:

Turkey and Iran fear that a move toward independence by the Iraqi Kurds will inflame separatist fervor among their countries’ Kurdish minorities. Videos on social media showed Kurds in at least two Iranian cities celebrating the Iraqi Kurds’ vote.

. . . . Both Turkey and Iran have threatened sanctions against the Kurdish region, including the closing of border crossings. Turkish and Iraqi troops are conducting military exercises on Iraq’s northern border near Kurdistan, and Iranian forces are carrying out similar maneuvers on Iraq’s eastern border.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Kurds further pursuing independence will lead to a “sectarian and ethnic war.”

The Times of India reports:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the Iraqi Kurdish leader against pushing for independence after holding a non-binding referendum, saying such a move risked sparking an “ethnic war” in the region.

“If (Massud) Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

. . . . Erdogan described the vote as a “treason to our country” since it had come at a time of good relations between Ankara and its neighbour the KRG.

He urged Barzani to “give up on an adventure which can only have a dark end.”

Erdogan reaffirmed that Turkey — which fears the effects of the vote on its own sizeable Kurdish population — would consider all options from economic sanctions to military measures.

“Airspace and ground (options) are all on the table,” he said, in apparent reference to his past threats to close the border.

“All options are on the table right now and being discussed,” he said. “You (the KRG) will be stuck from the moment we start implementing the sanctions.”

Erdogan further warned that no country in the world except Israel will recognize a free and independent Kurdistan.

The Turkish president said no other country would recognise Iraqi Kurds’ independence other than Israel, which had warmly supported the referendum.

“Who will recognise your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel,” he said.

But Erdogan warned Barzani that the support of the Jewish state would not be enough. “You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you.”

The UN appears to agree with this grim outlook for Kurdish independence.

ABC News reports:

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expressing regret that Iraq’s Kurds have gone ahead with an independence referendum.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres noted the referendum was “unilaterally declared, included disputed areas” and was opposed by Iraqi authorities and the global community. The spokesman said Guterres regretted that opportunities for negotiations were not seized and viewed the decision to hold the vote as potentially destabilizing.

While the U. S. has opposed the Kurdish independence referendum, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the U. S. will not change its historic relationship with Iraqi Kurds.

ABC News continues:

The United States says it’s “deeply disappointed” that Iraqi Kurds held a referendum on independence Monday, calling the vote “unilateral.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the move will “increase instability and hardships” for the Kurdish region of Iraq. She says it will also complicate the ability of the regional Kurdish government to work with Iraq’s central government and neighboring countries.

Still, Nauert says the U.S. won’t alter its “historic relationship” with Iraqi Kurds because of the referendum.

Nauert also says the U.S. opposes moves by any parties to change boundaries in Iraq. She says the Islamic State group and other extremists are hoping to “exploit instability and discord.”


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