By Babatunde Opalana
The Iraq controversial vote on independence holds today, Monday despite international opposition to call off the referendum, according to the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.
Baghdad government and the international community had opposed the referendum -including neighboring Turkey and Iran, which themselves have sizable Kurdish minorities.
But, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masud Barzani, said on Sunday that the non-binding vote will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence.
“The partnership with Baghdad has failed and we will not return to it,” Barzani told a press conference in Irbil, urging all Kurds to vote “in peace.”
In a televised address on September 24, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi called the vote “unconstitutional and against civil peace” and said Baghdad would take the “necessary measures” to protect the unity of the country.
The vote, Abadi said, “could lead to ethnic divisions, exposing [the Iraqis] to disastrous dangers that only God knows.”
According to a statement published by Abadi’s office, the Iraqi government asked the Kurdish region to hand over international border posts and its international airports.
It called on foreign countries to deal with the central government in regards to airports and borders and to stop oil trading with the region.
Meanwhile, Keivan Khosravi, the spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the country halted all flights between the Islamic republic and Iraq’s Kurdish region at the request of the government in Baghdad, Iranian state media reported.
The office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he and Iranian President Hassan Rohani, during a telephone conversation, voiced concern that the referendum will cause “chaos in the region.”
And Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country “will never, ever tolerate any status change or any new formations on its southern borders” and that the KRG “will be primarily responsible for the probable developments after this referendum.’”
The United Nations, the United States, and other Western powers have expressed concerns that the referendum could distract from the war against the extremist group Islamic State (IS) should it lead to unrest in disputed areas.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders have said the referendum will take place in the three provinces that officially make up the Kurdish autonomous region — Dahuk, Irbil, and Sulaimaniya — and some neighboring areas.
These areas include disputed cities such as oil-rich Kirkuk, Makhmour, Khanaqin, and Sinjar, over which Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have established control while fighting against IS militants who captured large parts of Iraq in 2014.
With reporting by AP, AFP, IRIB, and Reuters