Kurdish President Massoud Barzani announced that voters in Iraqi Kurdistan choose independence in the non-binding referendum that was held on Monday. According to Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, preliminary results indicate that over 90 percent of voters picked “yes.”
The referendum was never meant to grant immediate independence. Instead, its purpose is to begin a dialogue with Baghdad. However, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi still refuses to talk to the Kurds and reiterated demands that the airports and border points be handed over to Iraqi control.
Neighboring countries with large numbers of Kurds chimed in on Tuesday. Iran said it supports Baghdad. Also, state media reported on the installation of missile batteries to prevent invasion from Iraqi Kurdistan. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the Kurds that if Turkey imposes sanctions, they will go hungry.
Barzani downplayed the threats of punishment by stating that “any sanction imposed on the Kurdistani nation cannot be more effective than the Anfal, chemical attacks, mass murder, and budget cut.”
Interestingly, in a column in the Daily Sabah, Turkish Presidential Press Secretary İbrahim Kalın wrote that the Kurds have “legitimate concerns” which Baghdad has failed to address and blamed former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for much of the discord. In the end, however, Kalın warned of serious consequences and called partitioning Iraq “a dangerous precedent in a region already faced with numerous security challenges.” Maliki is currently a vice president of Iraq.
Iraq and Turkey put aside their differences and in response to the referendum held a joint military drill near the Habur border crossing.
In what may be a positive side effect, the Syrian government said it is open to discussions concerning Kurdish autonomy in that country, once the Islamic State militants are defeated. However, the Kurds already enjoy some autonomy thanks to the Civil War.
James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, called the independence vote a “major setback” as it “robs us of the argument that only the U.S. can keep Iraq united.” However, he also admitted that Baghdad, which is coming under growing Iranian influence, does not want to share any power with Kurds and Sunni Arabs, the two largest minority groups in Iraq. And that is the main problem between Erbil and Baghdad.
The United States may officially have come out against Kurdish independence, but U.S. Congressman Trent Franks introduced a bill that expresses support for the Kurds right to self-determination.
At least 31 were killed and 17 were wounded. Reports may be low due to the referendum:
A blast killed one person and wounded three more in Subaihat.
Sixteen militants were killed and four were wounded during a failed attack on Zarka.
Security forces killed 11 militants near Rawah.
In a tunnel in Anah, security forces killed a militant.