According to election monitors, more than 92% of voters in Iraqi Kurdistan have opted for independence.
The results will come as a blow to the Iraqi government which has been condemned the vote and has declared it illegal.
The region of Kurdistan is an autonomous area in Iraq governed by its own regional government. There are around 5 million Kurds in the region. Kurdistan is also the only autonomous self-governing area for Kurds. According to estimates, there are around 40 million Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and neighboring regions.
This isn’t the first time a referendum has been called in the region’s history. In 2014, Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani called for a vote for independence. However, renewed relations with the Iraqi government resulted in the referendum being called off.
Kurdistan has a rich history dating back to centuries. Historically, the Kurdish region has seen a long list of invaders and conquerors. There are Kurdish insurgent groups in countries like Turkey.
A brief history of Kurdistan can be found here.
Barzani’s call for an independence referendum was condemned not only by the Iraqi government but also by Turkey and the UN. Western nations fear that this could result in further instability in Iraq. However, the vote took place on September 25th. According to authorities, over 78% of the 5 million Kurdish population voted in the elections.
According to the results that were announced, more than 92% of voters in Iraqi Kurdistan have opted for independence.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the referendum an “unconstitutional decision and has given the country’s Kurdish region until Friday to surrender control of its two international airports. If the regional government does not concede then he has threatened Kurdistan with a shutdown of international flights.
Additionally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also denounced the elections. He has shut down travel along the shared border. He also announced that Turkey would block all of Kurdish oil exports. Iranian Kurds have taken to the streets in support of an independent Kurdistan.
In Kurdistan, amid celebration there is growing fear of tensions escalating. Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi troops into areas disputed between Arabs and Kurds. He also tried to calm the public sentiment by adding, “We don’t want a fight between Iraqi citizens.” Iran has threatened to use Iraqi militia to claim control of the region. Iran has considerable influence over these militias. Washington has threatened an air blockade but it has also encouraged dialogue between mainland Iraq and Kurdistan. Russia and Israel are major geopolitical nations that have not opposed the referendum. The Kurds are the region’s fourth largest ethnic group.
Our assessment is that Kurdistan faces significant obstacles in its path to freedom. Experts and critics have noted that there is no mechanism in place that can advance the vote into comprehensive freedom. Additionally, the region would choke if its oil exports are blocked by Turkey. Countries like Iran and Turkey would do everything in their capacity to ensure that Kurdistan does not become an independent state. They will fear of a similar movement taking place within their own borders.