ARBIL, Iraq — Iraq’s Kurds announced a massive “yes” vote for independence on Wednesday following a referendum that has incensed Baghdad and sparked international concern.
Official results showed 92 per cent of voters backing statehood in Monday’s non-binding referendum, which Iraq’s central government rejected as illegal. Turnout was put at 72.61 per cent.
In a retaliatory move, airlines from Turkey as well as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon said Wednesday they will halt flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan this week until further notice at the request of Baghdad.
Longtime Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani said the vote would not lead to an immediate declaration of independence and should instead open the door to negotiations.
But Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told lawmakers on Wednesday there was no question of using its results as the basis for talks.
“The referendum must be annulled and dialogue initiated in the framework of the constitution. We will never hold talks based on the results of the referendum,” Abadi said.
“We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan under the constitution,” he said.
Pressure has been mounting on the Kurds since the vote, not just from Baghdad but also from Ankara, with Turkey threatening a range of measures including cutting off key export routes for the region.
An overwhelming “yes” vote had been widely expected from the electorate of 4.58 million.
Pursuing a long-cherished dream of statehood, the Kurds went ahead with the referendum in defiance of widespread objections, including from the United Nations and United States.
It has raised fears of unrest and the possibility of a military confrontation involving the Kurds, who are key allies in internationally backed offensives against the jihadists of the Islamic State group.
In a televised address late on Tuesday, Barzani had urged Abadi "not to close the door to dialogue because it is dialogue that will solve problems".
“We assure the international community of our willingness to engage in dialogue with Baghdad,” he said, insisting the referendum was not meant to delimit the border (between Kurdistan and Iraq), nor to impose it de facto. — AFP