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Iraqi Kurds Vote on Independence, Angering Neighbors and U.S.

In a speech in Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatened possible military intervention and warned that his country could shut down a pipeline through which Iraqi Kurdistan sends crude oil into Turkey.

Referring to a Turkish intervention in Syria last year, he suggested that Turkey could take similar action in Iraq. “We may enter at night without warning,” he said.

Mr. Erdogan also said a border crossing from Turkey into northern Iraq had been closed in one direction. He added that Turkey planned to shut it down entirely.

The Kurdish region’s president, Massoud Barzani, said on Sunday that the Kurds’ “partnership” with Iraq was over. He said that Iraq’s Kurds could no longer tolerate living in a “theocratic, sectarian state,” a reference to Iran’s considerable influence on Mr. Abadi’s government, which is dominated by Shiite Muslims.

“From now on, Kurdistan will be a neighbor of Iraq, but not part of it,” Mr. Barzani said.

Voting was also underway on Monday in several contested, ethnically mixed areas of northern Iraq claimed by both Iraq and the Kurdish regional government. Kurdish fighters known as pesh merga seized control of those areas in 2014, after the Iraqi Army collapsed and fled an assault by Islamic State militants.

The referendum’s extension to contested areas has angered Baghdad, as well as many non-Kurdish residents who want to remain citizens of Iraq.

Especially contentious is Kirkuk, an oil-rich city inhabited by Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and smaller ethnic groups. Baghdad ordered the national police there not to provide security for voting sites, which were to be patrolled by Kurdish security police. In addition, Turkey fears that Turkmens living in disputed areas could be threatened by Kurdish attempts to include them in any future state.

Kurdish officials said referendum results would be announced within 72 hours. They said 3.9 million people were registered to vote, including residents of the disputed areas, at 1,700 polling locations.

The referendum, which is nonbinding outside the Kurdish region, is expected to pass by a comfortable margin, especially after two Kurdish political parties that had opposed the measure said Sunday night that they would support it.

Turnout will be a significant gauge of the depth of opposition to the vote among many Kurds, who say the region lacks the democratic institutions necessary for nationhood. Some Kurds who favor independence eventually, but not now, are expected to register their displeasure by staying home.

Source: NYT > World

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