Kurds insisting on independence referendum in Iraq

In the face of opposition from around the world, Iraq’s Kurds are standing firm and insisting a referendum on independence from Iraq will go ahead.

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It is expected to be a resounding victory for “yes” supporters.

Kurdistan Regional Government leader Massoud Barzani says the partnership with Iraq has failed and his government will take as much time as needed to discuss independence.

“I would like to reiterate that this referendum is not to draw the border to Kurdistan, this referendum is not to impose any status quo in any area. After the referendum, we are ready to start the process of dialogue with Baghdad. We are ready to give it as much time as needed — one year, two years — and, if we see that we have constructive dialogue with Baghdad, we can give it more time as well. But I would like to underline that we are never going back to Baghdad to renegotiate the failed partnership that we had in the past.”

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi made a televised address on the weekend.

He says the Kurdish referendum is anti-constitutional and could cause ethnic divisions.

“It is unacceptable to impose things by force. This logic is doomed to failure, as Saddam’s Baath had failed to impose things by oppression and threats. Unilateral decisions in matters of Iraq’s security and unity will impact all the people and the security of the region. A referendum on secession is a unilateral decision that violates the constitution and peaceful coexistence among people. We will not deal with it and its results, and we will take other measures to preserve the country’s unity and the interest of the citizens.”

The Kurdistan Regional Government has so far resisted calls by the United Nations, the United States and Britain to delay the referendum.

They fear the vote will cause further destabilisation in the already hostile region.

For many years, Turkey has been northern Iraq’s main link to the rest of the world.

But Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim has warned steps in response to the referendum will have security, diplomatic, political and economic dimensions.

“Turkey can never tolerate any new formations or any change of status on its south-east borders. The referendum that will be held in northern Iraq tomorrow is illegal. It’s null and void.”

Analysts suggest Turkey will most likely put countermeasures in place, fearing a “yes” vote could fuel separatism in its south-eastern areas.

Turkey is home to the largest Kurdish population in the region.

And Turkish political analyst Ilter Turan says military action is a possibility.

“The government will be authorised to engage in military action in northern Iraq if it is necessary, simply steps to remind the conductors of the referendum that their insistence may lead to outcomes which they may find too costly to accept.”

Kurds make up one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East and are spread among parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq has an estimated 5.3 million people.