While residents of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq began showing up on Monday at polling stations to cast their votes in the referendum on independence, a geographic dragnet is expected to be tightened around the region.
President of Iraq's Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani reiterated on Sunday his opposition against any pressure that aims to annul or postpone the vote. Barzani said “the vote will be held on time in all the Kurdistan regions and no official can stop this operation.”
Speaking at a press conference in Irbil a day before the referendum, he said “the partnership with Baghdad has failed and we will not return to it.”
Barzani said that the “Yes” vote would only constitute a first step that allows the Kurdistan region express its opinion, after which starts a long operation.
Last week, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq closed the door in the face of regional and international parties calling for the postponement of the referendum, and asserted it would proceed with the vote as scheduled on Monday.
Iraqi Kurds living abroad already started to vote electronically last Friday.
While the oil-rich Kirkuk province and the two provinces of Nineveh and Diyala are still considered as territories disputed between Irbil and Baghdad, Barzani said that the referendum would not determine the borders of those areas or impose a fait accompli. “We want a dialogue with Baghdad to resolve the problems, and the dialogue can last one or two years,” he said.
Speaking soon after Barzani’s speech, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned Irbil from the consequences of the vote and pledged to take the “necessary measures” to protect the country’s unity.
“Taking a unilateral decision, which can affect the unity of Iraq and its security and the security of the region is unconstitutional and against civil peace. We will take the necessary measures to preserve the unity of the country," the premier said.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the Iraqi National Security Council presided over by al-Ababdi, asked on Sunday the Kurdistan region to hand over “all border crossings, including the airports, to the federal authorities.”
It also asked neighboring countries and the international community to deal exclusively with the federal Iraqi government with regard to the borders and oil.
Meanwhile, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone about the referendum and stressed the "great importance" they attached to Iraq's territorial integrity.