Polls opened at 8 am local time in the three provinces of the autonomous region. First results expected tomorrow morning. Baghdad has already announced "measures" to defend the unity of the country, including a Kurdish oil blockade. Iran stops flights to and from Kurdistan. Ankara extends the mandate of Turkish troops to Iraq (and Syria).
Erbil (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Polls opened this morning in the controversial Kurdistan independence referendum, which has no binding value and is intended to be overwhelmingly vote in favor. The Iraqi government and the Supreme Court have repeatedly intervened against the electoral consultation, calling it unconstitutional and threatening to peace in the region, and promises "measures" to defend the unity of the country. Among them is the blockade of proceeds from oil, an essential resource for the local economy.
The vote for Kurdish independence - which also frightens Christians, yazides and Turkmen - has raised tensions with the local executive and many of the governments of the region with the singular exception of Israel. At the request of Baghdad, Iran has blocked all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan. Ankara endorsed prolongation of the presence of its troops in Syrian and Iraqi territory for another year to protect the country from external "threats".
Western Chancellors also fear that it may cause new conflicts and weaken Arab-Kurdish forces in the common struggle against the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis).
The vote - strongly demanded by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani – will be held in 12,072 polling stations, with over 5,3 million people eligible to vote having registered in the past few weeks. The operations started this morning at 8 am local time and concern three provinces of the Kurdish autonomous region: Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk, as well as in the controversial oil rich Kirkuk region.
Local sources report that the first results should arrive within 24 hours of the beginning of the vote. However, it is already possible to imagine the overwhelming victory of "yes"; all the main streets and squares of the region, as well as houses and public buildings, are decorated with flags and coats of arms of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Meanwhile, he central Iraqi government has already made its opposition felt. Prime Minister al-Abadi reports that all "necessary measures" will be taken to defend national unity. The referendum, continues the Iraqi leader, affects both the country and the region with destabilizing effects, and is "anti-constitutional and against civil peace".
Baghdad has also invited all foreign governments to "deal with him alone [central executive] for oil and border issues." Iraqi Kurdistan exports an average of about 600,000 barrels of oil per day through a pipeline running through Turkey to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.
The Christians of Alqosh, a small town on the plain of Nineveh among the few to escape the control of the Islamic state in the summer of 2014 are also highly critical of the vote. Over the past few weeks, the Kurdish government has removed the local mayor from office, replacing him with an exponent of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (Pdk), in power in the region. A move that has raised the protests of the local community that, in recent days, has targeted posters and letters calling for "yes". The fear is that, once the danger of Isis has passed, the new "Kurdish" threat may preclude the future of Christians on the plain.
Behind the reasons of the referendum illustrated by Barzani, what he calls the failure of "partnership with Baghdad" since the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein following the 2003 American invasion. Hence the decision to summon his people and impose his designs through the vote for the regions detachment from the central government. "The referendum - concluded Barzani - does not want to define boundaries or impose an accomplished fact. We want a dialogue with Baghdad to resolve our problems, negotiations [for controversial issues, such as Kirkuk] can last even one or two years. "