Iraq’s Kurdish people voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Iraq, with over 92 percent of the voters opting for an independence referendum, the Kurdish region’s election commission released in a statement. Voter turnout was more than 72 percent.
However, many of the Kurds are now facing being stranded after the Baghdad government in response to the vote, ordered international flights to halt service to Kurdish airports beginning on Friday. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has backed off the previously threatened use of force but has said that the government will take other measures to keep his country from breaking apart as the situation is set to worsen.
Despite such strong support, however, the non-binding vote was unlikely to lead to formal independence, even as it escalated long-running tensions with Baghdad. Iraq and its neighbors, along with virtually the entire international community, oppose any redrawing of the map.
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.
The election commission did not release turnout figures for the disputed territories, which could serve as an indicator of how many people in those areas prefer Kurdish rule. Hendrin Mohammed, the election commission chief, told The Associated Press those numbers would be released by local authorities. He did not elaborate.
Iraq’s Shiite Arab-dominated parliament called on al-Abadi to deploy troops in the disputed territories, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, but al-Abadi said Wednesday he didn’t want a “fight between the Iraqi citizens.”
Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Dubai have all said that their national airlines will comply with the ban on flying into Kurdish cities.
Hardline elements of al-Abadi’s government, including the Iranian-backed Shiite fighters known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, also called for the use of force following the Kurdish vote. Their spokesman, Ahmed al-Asad vowed that they will not allow a division of Iraq and threatened the ones who began the referendum and were awaiting orders to move into Kirkuk and restore government control.
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