Iraqi Kurds to go ahead with independence vote despite threats

Kurdistan's pro-postponement party changes position to YES to referendum

Massud Barzani, the leader of oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan, said his people's partnership with Baghdad had failed and that the plebiscite would proceed as planned on Monday.

Iraqi Shi'ite militias have fought on Assad's side against Syrian rebels and Islamic State.

Iran has constantly been in contact with the Kurdish officials, and has insisted that the Kurdish region should have solved its problems with Baghdad central government through political dialog, the spokesman said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the vote by Kirkuk provincial council as a wrong move, adding that the planned referendum was illegal and worthless.

"Iraq is against the Kurds, so are the Turks, the Iranians, the whole Arab region and Europe".

The US, which has deployed a contingent of military forces to a base in the Kurdistan Region, has also opposed the referendum.

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.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that Kurdish independence was unacceptable, and a "matter of survival" for his country.

The Kurdish authorities refused to postpone the exercise, contrary to the non-acceptance of Turkey, Iran, the Arab League and the central Iraqi government predicting a regional breakdown with the dismemberment of this nation.

Turkey started its military manoeuvers in southeastern Silopi region on September 18, a week ahead of the referendum on independence in northern Iraq.

Final results are expected within 72 hours.

Iran and Turkey, which both worry it will stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizeable Kurdish minorities, were also increasing pressure on Iraq's Kurds, with Ankara saying it would shut its border and threatening to block key oil exports. In Iraq, they have always been at odds with the Baghdad government over the sharing of oil revenues and the fate of disputed territories like Kirkuk.

The referendum was proceeding peacefully but there were fears of potential unrest, especially after lawmakers in Baghdad demanded that troops be sent to disputed areas where the referendum was taking place.

The central government argued that the Kurdish independence elections could unleash more chaos and distract attention from the struggle against the Islamic state.

In Sulaimaniyah, second city of the autonomous region, 40-year-old Diyar Omar came to cast his vote also wearing traditional clothes.

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