Iraqi Kurds vote in referendum on independence from Baghdad

Iraqi Kurds vote in referendum on independence from Baghdad

Iraqi Kurds vote in referendum on independence from Baghdad

Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region kicked off an independence referendum on Monday in the face of strong objections from the central government in Baghdad and urgent calls from the global community to scrap the vote.

Citing the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, Erbil-based Rudaw TV said 78 percent of the more than five million eligible voters turned out to vote.

Iraqis in areas held by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad - voted to decide whether to secede from Iraq.

Final results are expected within 72 hours.

As voting started, Turkey said it does not recognize the referendum and will view its results as null and void.

The US, which has deployed a contingent of military forces to a base in the Kurdistan Region, has also opposed the referendum.

The Syrian government rejects the independence referendum organized by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, Syria's foreign minister has said.

The decision by the Kurdish authorities to hold the vote might have unprecedented consequences for both the regional people and the Kurds themselves, he added. They have also argued over the sharing of oil revenues, with the Kurds exporting through a Turkish pipeline over objections from Baghdad.

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Iraqi and Kurdish forces succeeded in driving IS from the northern city of Mosul in July after a grueling nine-month campaign, but the extremists still control pockets of territory in Iraq, and have a long history of exploiting political vacuums.

In Sulaimaniyah, second city of the autonomous region, 40-year-old Diyar Omar came to cast his vote also wearing traditional clothes.

"We are ready to pay any price for our independence", he said.

Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Iraqi Kurdish leaders to scrap the vote which he said would undermine the ongoing battle in the Arab country against Daesh.

On Saturday, according to the wire service, "Turkey's parliament met in an extraordinary session to extend a mandate allowing Turkey's military to send troops over its southern border if developments in Iraq and Syria are perceived as national security threats".

"I feel so great and happy, I feel we'll be free", said Suad Pirot, a Kirkuk Kurdish resident, after voting.

The US State Department warned the Kurds last week that "holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing".

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