Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said on Tuesday that Kurds had voted “yes” to independence in a referendum held in defiance of the government in Baghdad and which had angered their neighbors and their U.S. allies.
In a televised address, Barzani said the “yes” vote had won and he called on Iraq’s central government in Baghdad to engage in “serious dialogue” instead of threatening the Kurdish Regional Government with sanctions.
Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence from Baghdad, according to the Kurdish High elections and Referendum Commission on Wednesday. A reported 92.7 percent of the more than 3.3 million people who voted were in favor of secession. Voter turnout was just over 72 percent. This referendum result echoes a previous Kurdish unofficial independence referendum which was held in 2005 and where the independence vote got 99.78%.
The Iraqi Kurds, who have ruled over an autonomous region within Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, consider Monday’s referendum to be an historic step in a generations-old quest for a state of their own.
However, Iraq considers the vote unconstitutional, especially as it was held not only within the Kurdish region itself but also on disputed territory held by Kurds elsewhere in northern Iraq.
The Iraqi government ruled out talks on Kurdish independence and Turkey threatened to impose a blockade, and the Iraqi parliament called for the army to be deployed in areas disputed between the Kurds and the Iraqis.
Turkey's President Erdogan threatened military response to the independence vote suggesting that the Turkish army might even go as far as to invade Northen Iraq and to cut off the Kurd's oil pipeline which runs through Turkey.
The Turkish president - fearful a 'yes' result will stroke separatist appetites in his own country which has a significant Kurdish population- threatened he will let Iraq's Kurds 'starve' with economic sanctions and border closures if the Iraqi Kurds pursue their independence goals.
Iran, which also has a significant Kurdish population, is also opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdistan, which could fuel the desire for Kurdish independence in its own territories. Iran closed the border with Iraqi Kurdistan over the independence vote and has launched a series of army maneuvers alongside the border.
The United States, the EU, the UN and major European countries like the UK and Germany are strongly opposed the decision to hold the referendum and to Kurdish independence, which they described as destabilizing at a time when all sides are still fighting against Islamic State militants.
In response to all of this, the Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani urged the world to "respect the will of millions of people" who voted in Monday's referendum. He called on Baghdad to engage in a "serious dialogue" with the Kurds over granting Kurdistan independence.