The Latest: Iraqi Kurds claim victory in independence vote

The Associated Press

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The Latest on the Iraqi Kurdish referendum on support for independence from Baghdad and the tensions surrounding the vote (all times local):

9 p.m.

The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region has claimed victory for the “yes” vote in the referendum on support for independence.

In a televised address Tuesday, Masoud Barzani called for “dialogue” with Baghdad, which has rejected the vote as unconstitutional and is staunchly opposed to any redrawing of borders.

Barzani said “instead of harassment, let’s have dialogue for a better future,” adding that “negotiations are the right path to solve the problems, not threats or the language of force.”

Iraq’s Kurds held a non-binding vote Monday on support for independence from Iraq despite the heavy opposition from Baghdad, as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has threatened a flight ban if the Kurdish region does not hand over control of its airports to federal authorities by Friday.


7:40 p.m.

Iraq’s prime minister says the Kurdish region has until Friday to hand over airports to federal authorities or will face a flight ban.

Haider al-Abadi’s ultimatum Tuesday came the day after Iraq’s Kurds held a referendum on independence that has been roundly denounced by Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors.

Al-Abadi says the ban would exclude humanitarian and other “urgent” flights.

The Kurds have their own regional government, parliament, armed forces and airports in Iraq’s three northern provinces, where they have enjoyed constitutional autonomy for more than a decade. They control disputed territories outside those provinces that are also claimed by Baghdad.

The referendum is not binding and will not immediately lead to independence, but it has increased tensions in the region. Turkey has threatened to intervene militarily and is holding joint military drills with Iraq on the border.


5:20 p.m.

The Arab League is calling on Iraqis to renounce their differences and open comprehensive dialogue to avoid clashes following a controversial independence referendum held by the country’s Kurds.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, chief of the Cairo-based pan-Arab organization, says in a statement: “It is still possible to contain the repercussions of this step if all concerned parties exercise wisdom and responsibility and conduct themselves inside the parameters of the Iraqi state.”

The interests of Iraq, he added, “will be best served in the framework of a unified, federal and democratic Iraq.”

While the referendum is not binding and not expected to immediately lead to independence, it has shaken the region, eliciting condemnations from Iraq’s neighbors as well as the United States and the United Nations.


3:50 p.m.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency reports that the country’s defense minister has expressed concerns over the security implications of a referendum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The report quotes Gen. Amir Hatami as saying: “Iran is opposed to any action that leads to a change” in the geographical divisions of the countries in the region.

Iran is among many countries that opposed an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In June, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that advocates of Kurdish independence are “opponents of the independence and identity” of Iraq.


3:10 p.m.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry is expressing concern over the possible “negative” consequence of the referendum in Iraq’s Kurdish area.

Tuesday’s statement by the ministry says “Egypt urges all parties not to take any unilateral measures that could further complicate the situation.”

The statement called for “constructive dialogue to achieve comprehensive settlement over issues of conflict between Irbil and Baghdad.”

Egypt is just the latest country to issue a statement in opposition to the referendum held by Iraq’s Kurds on support for independence Monday. Iran, Turkey, the United States and the United Nations all condemned the vote citing fears of regional instability.


2:35 p.m.

Tanks with soldiers holding the Turkish and Iraqi flags rolled on a field lifting up dust, as the two countries’ militaries conducted joint exercises on Turkey’s border with Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

A group of some 30 Iraqi troops have arrived in the border region to join ongoing Turkish military maneuvers that were launched last week in a symbolic warning to Kurds who are holding a referendum on independence.

The joint drills, which come a year after Turkey and Iraq were at odds over the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq, is taking place on land just 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) away from the Habur border crossing into Iraq on Tuesday.

Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population and is battling Kurdish insurgents on its territory, opposes Kurds’ moves toward independence and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened military action against the Iraqi Kurdish region.

On Tuesday, Erdogan said all options from military action to economic sanctions were on the table.


2:30 p.m.

Iran’s parliament will hold a closed-door meeting on the referendum in Iraq’s Kurdish area.

The meeting Wednesday will see lawmakers receive a briefing about Monday’s vote.

The meeting comes as parliament speaker Ali Larijani on Tuesday criticized the vote. State television quoted him as saying there are “elements” … “making provocations” in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Thousands of Iranian Kurds demonstrated into the early morning Tuesday to celebrate the vote.

Both Iran and Turkey fear the referendum will embolden their own Kurdish populations to seek their own states.

Iran has been holding military exercises near the Iraqi border in a show of its displeasure.


1:15 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country is considering all options ranging from military intervention to economic sanctions against Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Speaking in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan said, however, that he hopes the Iraqi Kurdish leadership will abandon aims of creating a separate state and not force Turkey into enforcing sanctions.

Erdogan says: “I hope the northern Iraqi administration gathers itself together and abandons this adventure with a dark ending.”

He added that the landlocked Iraqi Kurdish region would not be able to survive without Turkey’s support.

“The moment we shut the valve it’s finished for them,” Erdogan said in reference to a pipeline into Turkey allowing the region to export its oil.

The Turkish leader said no country other than Israel supports the Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence, which he described as “invalid” and “fraudulent” and said attempts by Kurds to form an independent state are doomed to fail.


11:35 a.m.

Regional authorities say the Iraqi Kurdish referendum saw an over 70-percent turnout.

That’s according to the electoral commission in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Sherwan Zerar, the commission’s spokesman, said on Tuesday morning that turnout was about 3.3 million of the eligible 4.5 million residents. Official results from the election are expected later in the day.

The vote, which was held on Monday, was billed by the Iraqi Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination. To Baghdad, the vote threatens a redrawing of Iraq’s borders, while leaders in Turkey and Iran fear the move would embolden their own Kurdish populations.


11:11 a.m.

Thousands of Iranian Kurds have poured into the streets in Iran in support of the Iraqi Kurds’ voting in a landmark referendum for independence from Baghdad.

Footage shared online by Iranian Kurds showed demonstrators waving lit mobile phones in the air and chanting their support into the night on Monday.

The demonstrations took place in the towns of Baneh, Saghez and Sanandaj.

Iranian state television on Tuesday acknowledged the demonstrations, a rarity in the Islamic Republic.

Iran, Turkey and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad have all opposed the referendum. Iran has been holding military exercises near the Iraqi border in a show of its displeasure.

The Iraqi Kurdish push for independence comes as Kurdish forces captured extensive territory in fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.


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