Iraqi Kurds vote in referendum on independence from Baghdad

Iraqi Kurds were going to the polls on Monday to vote on whether to support independence from Baghdad in a historic but non-binding referendum that has raised regional tensions and fears of instability.

Millions were expected to vote across the three provinces that make up the Kurdish autonomous region, as well as residents in disputed territories - areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The ballot is being held despite mounting regional opposition to the move and the United States has warned that it is likely to destabilise the region amid the fight with the Islamic State group.

Baghdad has also come out strongly against the referendum, demanding on Sunday that all airports and borders crossings in the Kurdish region be handed back to federal government control.

In a televised address on Sunday night, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said "the referendum is unconstitutional. It threatens Iraq, peaceful coexistence among Iraqis and is a danger to the region."

"We will take measures to safeguard the nation's unity and protect all Iraqis," he added.

An Iraqi Kurdish woman casts her ballot during the referendum on independence from Iraq in Irbil, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.

Earlier on Sunday, the Kurdish region's president, Masoud Barzani, said during a press conference in Irbil that he believed the voting would be peaceful, though he acknowledged that the path to independence would be "risky".

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

In a strongly worded statement, Turkey said on Monday that it does not recognise the referendum and declared its results would be "null and void".

Turkey's Foreign Ministry called on the international community and especially regional countries not to recognise the vote either and urged Iraq Kurdish leaders to abandon "utopic goals", accusing them of endangering peace and stability for Iraq and the whole region.

The ministry reiterated that Turkey would take all measures to thwart threats to its national security.

On Saturday, 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.

Initial results from the poll are expected on Tuesday, with the official results to be announced later in the week.

Iraqi Kurds have long dreamed of independence - something the Kurdish people were denied when colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after the First World War. The Kurds form a sizeable minority in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. In Iraq, they have long been at odds with the Baghdad government over the sharing of oil revenues and the fate of disputed territories like Kirkuk.

The Kurds have been a close American ally for decades, and the first US air strikes in the campaign against IS were launched to protect Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Kurdish forces later regrouped and played a major role in driving the extremists from much of northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country's second largest city.

But the US has long been opposed to Kurdish moves towards independence, fearing it could lead to the break-up of Iraq and bring even more instability to an already volatile Middle East.

Voting was also under way on Monday morning in Kirkuk. The oil-rich city has large Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian communities and has seen some low-level clashes in the days leading up to Monday's vote.

An Iraqi Kurdish man casts his ballot during the referendum on independence from Iraq in Irbil, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. Iraq's Kurdish region vote in a referendum on whether to secede from Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

"I feel so great and happy, I feel we'll be free," said Suad Pirot, a Kirkuk Kurdish resident, after voting. "Nobody will rule us, we will be independent."e visited the pub in Cork at 10.35 p.m. on January 5 when an 18th birthday party was taking place.

“Were you concerned about the premises, about underage drinking?” Judge Olann Kelleher asked.

Garda White confirmed that he was concerned.

Defence solicitor, Aoife McCann, said the defendant company White Chestnut Taverns Ltd was pleading guilty to selling intoxicating liquor to a named person under the age of 18.

That young person was since dealt with by gardaí through the juvenile liaison scheme.

Garda White testified that he presented himself to manager Niall Murphy in order to carry out an inspection of the premises in relation to suspected underage drinking.

“I observed a young male drinking out of a glass. He said he was 17. He was drinking a pint of Beamish. He said it was his second pint of Beamish. I asked him did her purchase it at the premises and he said he did,” Garda White said.

The barwoman who admitted serving him said it was her presumption that security staff at the door had checked him for an identity card on his arrival at the premises.

Judge Olann Kelleher said underage drinking was a serious problem and he commended Garda White for investigating it.

Ms McCann, solicitor, said the teenager was not attending the 18th party at the premises and that someone had admitted him through a security door. Mc McCann said management at the premises had no similar previous conviction and at considerable expense had put a camera on the emergency door and taken steps to ensure that young people would not gain access in this manner again.

“He has taken it seriously,” Ms McCann said on behalf of the manager.

Judge Kelleher fined the defendant €850 for permitting the sale of alcohol to a person under 18 and he ordered the mandatory closure of the pub on October 24 and 25. The judge said a sign would have to be put up on the premises on those dates explaining the reason for the two-day closure.

An Iraqi Kurdish woman shows her inked finger after casting a vote during the referendum on independence from Iraq in Irbil, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. Iraq's Kurdish region vote in a referendum on whether to secede from Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has warned of the "potentially destabilising" effects of the referendum.

In a statement Mr Guterres said "all outstanding issues between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise".


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