Although the Kurdish independence referendum is apparently still scheduled for Monday, a Kurdish delegation met with Shi’ite leaders in Baghdad on Saturday to discuss the situation. However, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did not meet with the group, and the discussion may have ended quickly because of that. In what may be a crucial development though, the early voting process for security personnel that was set for today has been postponed until Monday.
The Kurdistan Regional Government admits that the vote only establishes a mandate to discuss possible independence from Iraq. Still, the referendum has caused great controversy in Baghdad and neighboring Turkey. The heads of both the Iraqi and Turkish armed forces met in Turkey on Saturday to discuss the matter. At the U.N. General Assembly, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari called the referendum divisive and unconstitutional.
Also on Saturday, the Turkish parliament extended a 2014 mandate that allows the Turkish military to conduct cross-border operations into Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım warned Iraqi Kurdistan that the independence referendum set for Monday could result in a military incursion by Turkish forces. Earlier in the week, Turkish military drills were conducted at the border between Kurdistan and Turkey.
Thanks to the mandate, Turkey already maintains an unauthorized presence at the Bashiqa military base near Mosul, ignoring all demands from Baghdad to remove troops. Airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.) targets in northern Iraq are often conducted as well. The troops were stationed at the base originally under the guise of fighting the Islamic State militants and later to protect the Turkmen minority group.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that the Kurdish independence referendum would create new crises in the Middle East, but what Turkey likely fears the most from the referendum is igniting separatist fervor among its native population of Kurds. The Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K) has been fighting a three-decades long guerrilla war against Turkey, and its leadership maintains bases in northern Iraq. Also, some analysts would even argue that Turkey has designs on expanding its territory into northern Iraq; Ankara believes it has legitimate claims on Kirkuk and Mosul.
Residents of contested Kirkuk are stocking up on provisions ahead of the referendum should conditions deteriorate. Although Kirkuk is not officially under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government, it has been under their protection since Peshmerga forces recaptured the city from Islamic State forces in 2014.
At least 297 were killed and 13 were wounded:
In Nahrawan, a bomb killed one person and wounded three more.
A roadside bomb in Qara Tapa left one militiaman dead and another wounded.
In Abbara, a university student was shot dead.
A dumped body was found in Jbela.
Five people were wounded by an explosion in Mahmoudiya.
Militants in Syria executed 28 militants, including a leader, after the group fled Anah.
In Hawija, 21 militants were killed.
Security forces killed three militants in Ramadi.
Read more by Margaret Griffis
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