Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly vote for independence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 11:21pm

The Kurdish referendum on independence from Iraq was approved by more than 92 per cent of voters, officials said on Wednesday, as Iraq’s prime minister vowed to keep his country united without resorting to the use of force.

Even with the strong support, the non-binding vote is unlikely to lead to formal independence, but it has escalated long-running tensions with Baghdad, which has moved to block flights in and out of the Kurds’ autonomous region. Iraq and its neighbours, along with virtually the entire international community, are opposed to any redrawing of the map.

Hendrin Mohammed, the head of the Kurdish region’s election commission, announced the official results at a press conference, saying the referendum passed with 92.73 per cent support and a turnout of more than 72 per cent.

The vote was held across the autonomous Kurdish region’s three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad.

Iraq’s Arab-dominated parliament has approved a 13-point resolution that gives Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi the mandate to deploy troops in the disputed territories, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, but he said on Wednesday he doesn’t want a “fight between the Iraqi citizens”.

At a meeting with lawmakers, he instead vowed to “enforce the rule of the federal authority in the Kurdish region with the power of the constitution.”

On Wednesday, parliament modified the resolution to demand that Baghdad refrain from taking part in any dialogue with the Kurds until the results of Monday’s vote are cancelled. It also called on the government to bring those behind the vote, including Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani, to justice. The demands are non-binding.

Abadi has ordered the Kurdish region to hand over control of its airports to federal authorities by Friday, threatening a flight ban if they refuse. Iraq’s Transport Ministry has ordered international airlines to halt services to Arbil, the Kurdish regional capital, and Sulaimaniyah, its second city, beginning on Friday evening.

Middle East Airlines, the flagship carrier of Lebanon, and EgyptAir have announced that they will comply, cancelling all flights after Friday. Low-cost airline FlyDubai says its flights to Arbil are in question from Saturday.

The transport minister for Iraq’s Kurdish region said on Wednesday the region’s international airports have not violated any laws that would warrant their closure.

Mawlood Bawa Murad told reporters his ministry is ready to negotiate with Baghdad “if they want to implement the law and show that Iraq has one air space”.

He said the flight ban would affect “the military aviation that operates from Arbil International Airport”, which is used for the campaign against Islamic State.