Iraq Refuses Talks with Kurdistan Following Independence Vote

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016.
Khalid Mohammed / AP

The Iraqi government has announced it will not hold talks with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) following Monday’s independence referendum, describing the process as “unconstitutional.”

“We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address on Monday night.

“Most of the problems of the [Kurdish] region are internal ones, and not with Baghdad, and will be increased with the calls for separation,” Abadi continued. “The economic and financial problems the region is suffering from are the result of corruption and mis-administration”:

The ruling Shi’ite coalition in Baghdad also remains concerned about the potential annexation of any regions important to Iraqi interests, such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

On announcing the referendum this year, Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), said the referendum would be non-binding and would instead seek to obtain a mandate to begin negotiations with Baghdad and other affected countries over the secession of the Kurdish-controlled region from Iraq.

“The purpose of the referendum is to seek out the opinion of the Kurds and then start a dialogue with Baghdad,” Barzani said in June.

Turnout for the referendum was high at approximately 78 percent, with current projections estimating a landslide win for independence. An exit poll conducted by the Kurdish website Rudaw website suggests that over 90 percent of people have voted for independence. Official results will be announced on Friday.

There were scenes of jubilation as the polls closed in the Kurdish capital of Erbil on Monday, as well as in the disputed city of Kirkuk, where a curfew was imposed on Monday night to prevent potential unrest:

The U.S. State Department outlined its opposition to the vote, saying it was “deeply disappointed” that the vote went ahead.

“The United States is deeply disappointed that the Kurdistan Regional Government decided to conduct today a unilateral referendum on independence, including in areas outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” the department said in a statement. “[Our] historic relationship with the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region will not change in light of today’s non-binding referendum, but we believe this step will increase instability and hardships for the Kurdistan region and its people.”

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned that the referendum could spark an “ethnic war” in the region, and claimed that the Kurdish people would starve should Turkey decide to close its long border with northern Iraq, an option currently being considered by Turkish officials.

“Until the very last moment, we weren’t expecting Barzani to make such a mistake as holding the referendum. Apparently, we were wrong,” Erdogan said. “This referendum decision, which has been taken without any consultation, is treachery.”

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