The voting in the Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq began Monday morning. Hours before the polls opened, Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani stressed that despite the international pressure, the vote would go ahead as planned.

Rally in support of the vote

Rally in support of the vote Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

The polls in northern Iraq opened Monday morning for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s independence referendum. The vote is taking place amid the regional and global concerns that the results could lead to instability and violence throughout the Middle East.

Hours before the polling stations opened their doors, Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani called a press conference in Erbil during which he clarified that the Kurds are determined to hold the independence referendum despite the international pressure. “We will never return to the failed partnership with the government in Baghdad,” he said.

Barzani stated his disappointment that after Saddam Hussein’s collapse in 2003, Iraq failed to become a democratic state and harshly criticized the current Iraqi government. He did not mention the concerns and threats coming from the leaders of Iraq and Turkey: “We will respect international law. We are not trying to reshape the borders in the region.”


Barzani Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government called on Barzani to allow Baghdad to control the border crossings and international airports in northern Iraq. In addition, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office released a statement calling on the countries of the world to stop purchasing oil from Kurdish entities: “The neighboring countries should contact only the authorities in Baghdad regarding border crossings and oil purchases.”

Both Ankara and Tehran attempted to stop the vote. Last night, it was reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with his Iranian counterpart by phone. During the conversation, the leaders expressed concerns that the vote will “bringing chaos to the region.” The US and other Western countries also expressed opposition toward the vote, stating that it could harm the fight against ISIS.

The referendum, which is expected to demonstrate the Kurdish desire for independence, is not binding but will in effect give the Kurdish leadership the mandate to begin talks with Baghdad and the neighboring countries regarding its demand.