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Iraq Orders Kurdistan to Surrender Its Airports

Referring to the Kurdish leadership, he added, “Unfortunately, some have tried to weaken Iraq and be stronger than the state.”

“We are partners in this country, and the partnership means we work together and don’t carry out unilateral decisions that lead to division and conflict and weakness,” Mr. Abadi said.

There was no immediate response by leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government. In an address in Erbil on Tuesday night, Massoud Barzani, the region’s president, referred indirectly to Mr. Abadi’s ultimatum.

“We ask the Baghdad government not to threaten the Kurds because of the referendum,” he said. He urged the Iraqi government to enter negotiations and to respect what he said was the will of the Kurdish people to seek a nation of their own.

He added that the referendum had been approved by a wide margin, though he did not provide figures. The Kurdish authorities are expected to announce the vote results on Wednesday.

Turkey and Iran fear that a move toward independence by the Iraqi Kurds will inflame separatist fervor among their countries’ Kurdish minorities. Videos on social media showed Kurds in at least two Iranian cities celebrating the Iraqi Kurds’ vote.

The United States also opposed the vote, worried that it could set off ethnic conflict, break up Iraq and undermine the American-led coalition against the Islamic State.

Both Turkey and Iran have threatened sanctions against the Kurdish region, including the closing of border crossings. Turkish and Iraqi troops are conducting military exercises on Iraq’s northern border near Kurdistan, and Iranian forces are carrying out similar maneuvers on Iraq’s eastern border.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Tuesday that Kurdistan’s action risked provoking a wider conflict, and he warned that Kurds would go hungry from a trade blockade with Turkey.

“If Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government do not reverse this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of taking the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” he said in a televised speech from Ankara.

The Kurdish regional government, which has its own parliament and military force, operates international airports in its capital, Erbil, and in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah. There is no domestic Kurdish airline in the autonomous region.

Iraq asked other countries last week to halt flights into the Kurdish region, but only Iran complied.

Mr. Abadi is expected to meet on Wednesday with the Iraqi Parliament, which has voted to request that Iraqi troops be sent to disputed areas that are controlled by the Kurds but claimed by Baghdad. The would include the multiethnic, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds seized in 2014.

As the Islamic State rose in northern Iraq in 2014, Kurdish fighters took advantage of the chaos, and in some cases of fleeing Iraqi troops, to expand the Kurdish territory by 40 percent.

The Iraqi Parliament has also requested that the government consider closing land crossings linking Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of the country.

The move by Mr. Abadi was viewed in Kurdistan as the beginning of a campaign to pressure the region to back away from independence.

For the Kurds, an independent state has been a national aspiration for generations. When borders in the Middle East were redrawn after World War I, the Kurds were denied a homeland. About 30 million Kurds are spread across Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

For decades, Baathist-led governments in Baghdad tried to crush or evict the Kurds from their traditional lands and replace them with Arabs. But the Kurds were protected from Saddam Hussein’s troops by an American no-fly zone starting in 1991, and have since built a thriving proto-state across northern Iraq.

Analysts say that even if the referendum does not result in immediate independence, it strengthens the Kurds’ leverage in negotiating greater autonomy from Baghdad.

Source: NYT > World

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