Independence Referendum Voting Begins in Iraqi Kurdistan

Independence Referendum Voting Begins in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurds voted in an independence referendum Monday as tensions rose with Baghdad and neighbouring countries over the historic vote. He said the council had held a special meeting on the referendum and Baghdad's request. In Kirkuk, the epicenter of the territorial dispute, the governor imposed a nighttime curfew after the vote.

Iran and Turkey have sizeable Kurdish populations of their own and fear the vote will stoke separatist aspirations at home.

However, it is created to give Masoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a mandate to negotiate the secession of the oil-producing region.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday discussed the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum on the phone, and both sides emphasized their coordinated opposing stance over the referendum.

Voters headed to the polls early, many men dressed in traditional Kurdish dress of brown shirt and billowing pants for the occasion.

Voting ended in controversial referendum on the secession of northern Iraq's Kurdish region hours ago.

Initial results are expected to be announced 24 hours after the vote.

Voting was also under way on Monday morning in Kirkuk.

"We will seize our independence through the polls", he said.

The Kurdish Rudaw TV station reports 78 percent of the region's 5.2 million eligible voters showed up to vote.

The BBC says Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East.

The Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad has maintained relations with Damascus throughout the country's war, even as other Arab states cut ties with President Bashar al-Assad's administration.

Asked about the risks of armed conflict, Abadi's spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told AFP: "If there are clashes in these zones, it will be the job of federal forces to apply the law".

In a televised address on Sunday night, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said "the referendum is unconstitutional".

The Iraqi Kurds export an average 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) through a pipeline running through Turkey to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

Erdogan said a border crossing with Iraq had been closed in one direction and that Turkey would shut it entirely.

Today's non-binding referendum took place in northern Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)-held areas, including areas disputed between Erbil and Baghdad.

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.

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