The president of Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan has vowed to go ahead with an independence referendum set for next week despite intense opposition by the Iraqi government and international powers. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) plans to hold the referendum on support for independence on September 25 in three governorates that make up the region, and in some disputed areas, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and parts of the northern province of Nineveh. "Referendum is no longer in our hands or political parties, it is in the hands of people," KRG head Masoud Barzani said on Friday to thousands of cheering supporters who packed the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. "The same people who are threatening us have not come to ask why we are holding a referendum," Barzani said, according to a report from Kurdish news portal Rudaw. Baghdad is vehemently opposed to the vote, which has also alarmed neighbouring Turkey, which has a large Kurdish minority.
A historic independence vote later this month in Iraqi Kurdistan could accelerate the Kurdish path towards sovereignty and finally gift Iraq's Kurds with a state of their own after a century's worth of conflict, mass atrocities and genocide. While the referendum could generate the momentum for Kurdish independence, as well as formalise the process, it will have no immediate administrative and organisational impact, since the vote will not be legally binding. But, the Kurdish push for statehood will not be without its challenges, least of all resistance from regional powers. Turkey and Iran, in particular, have historically resisted Kurdish self-determination, often through armed confrontation. Iraqi Kurdistan's neighbours have been stuck between a rock and a hard place ever since a Western-imposed no-fly zone was established over northern Iraq in 1991, which allowed the two dominant parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to establish their own autonomous region, complete with its own political system (including elections), institutions, and foreign relations.
IRBIL – Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will hold a referendum on statehood in September, its presidency said Wednesday, despite opposition to independence from Baghdad. Iraqi Kurds largely support the idea of an independent state, but a yes vote in September would only be the start of a contentious project that would face major external and internal challenges. "The date for the independence referendum shall be Monday, September 25, 2017," the presidency said in a statement. "It will be on that day when the people of the Kurdistan region, as well as those living in the disputed areas, will cast their votes on whether they accept independence," the statement said. The decision was made at a meeting attended by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and representatives of the region's political parties, it said.
Turkey's president has said Iraqi Kurds could go hungry as a result of the punitive measures it is considering after Monday's independence referendum. Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government of "treachery" for pressing ahead with the vote despite international opposition. Mr Erdogan has previously threatened to cut a vital Kurdish oil pipeline and stop lorries crossing Turkey's border. Turkey fears that the emergence of an independent Kurdish state on its border will stoke separatist feeling in its own Kurdish minority. The results of the referendum are yet to be declared, but a "yes" vote is expected.
The Iraqi government has threatened to impose an international air embargo on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) if it does not hand over control of its airports, as Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani says his people voted in favour of independence. On Tuesday, Barzani announced that the majority of Kurdish voters supported independence in Monday's referendum. The results came shortly after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the KRG has until 3:00pm local time (12:00 GMT) on Friday to transfer control of the airports to the Iraqi government. The embargo threat is the latest in a string of retaliatory measures against the KRG's push for independence. Domestic flights are not involved in the ultimatum and in the worst case, international travel to and from the KRG will be re-routed through Baghdad and other Iraqi airports.