Kurds openly celebrated participating in a non-binding independence referendum on Monday even as neighbors such as Turkey and Iran threatened to impose sanctions and intervene militarily. Although the results are non-binding, Kurdish leadership hopes to use a “yes” result as a mandate to begin negotiations with Baghdad. Kurds arrived at the polls dressed in traditional attire and brought their children along with them. The results are not expected before Thursday.
Turnout across the region was reported at 78 percent of registered voters. Voting took place not only in the three provinces that officially belong to the Kurdistan Region but also in disputed areas that came under Kurdish control as Kurdish forces chased out Islamic State militants over the last three years. The question on the ballot was: “Do you want the Kurdistan Region and Kurdistani areas outside the (Kurdistan) Region to become an independent country?”
In contested Kirkuk, turnout was heavy among Kurds but said to be low among Turkmen and Arab residents. The governor imposed a curfew after voting ended to avoid escalating tensions. Karim al-Nuri, a head of the Badr Brigade threatened to send in militia troops into region.
Reaction in Baghdad was predictably grim. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he refuses to discuss the results of the referendum because of its unconstitutional nature. The Ministry of Defense announced it will launch a joint military drill with Turkey. Also, the Iraqi Parliament voted to close border points between Kurdistan and Iraq. They also wanted security forces to take control of disputed areas, but if that were possible it likely would have already occurred.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the Kurds that he will order oil pipelines coming from Kurdistan shut down. Traffic at the Habur border point was closed in one direction, allowing only traffic from Turkey into Kurdistan to pass freely.
There are reports that Shi’ite militiamen blocked voters in Kurdish areas of Diyala province, specifically Mandali, Saidiya, and Qara Tapa.
At least 27 were killed and seven were wounded. Reports may be low due to the referendum:
Four dumped bodies were found in Haswa.
Thirteen militants were killed in Tal Sufuq.
Nine militants were killed in Zarka.
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