Written by on 09/26/2017

Winchester, VA – The Washington Times reports that Iraqi Kurds went to the polls in droves yesterday to vote for independence, despite pressures from the Iraqi government, Turkey, the United States and the United Nations. The Kurds are a stateless ethnic minority who have suffered discrimination, displacement and even chemical attacks. Their native land straddles the boundaries of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. There are roughly 30-45 million Kurds in the world, and  most live in Greater Kurdistan. Kurds make up 17% of the Iraqi population. In the area of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is an autonomous region within Iraq, the Kurds are the majority population and govern their area. They run their own airports, monitor their borders, and have their own fighters, called the peshmerga. The independence vote itself is nonbinding, but makes clear the Kurds’ intentions. Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government expressed both his hopes that Baghdad would receive the vote of the people positively, and also a desire to meet with Baghdad for serious talks after the vote. He said, “What we have done is not without risk for sure and the determination of our people. We are ready for that. The biggest guarantee is the will of our people.” The Kurds have been experiencing enormous pressure to put their hopes of independents on hold, or put them away altogether. The Independent and the BBC report that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has a Kurdish uprising in his own country right now, accused Kurdish President Masoud Barzani of “treachery” and threatened to invade Iraq and cut off the oil pipelines if the Kurds voted for independence.  Turkey and Iraq planned large scale joint military exercises with Turkey following last night’s vote. Iran also held military exercises along its border in response. The United States, despite all the help it has received from the Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State, is opposing the independence vote. Trump Administration Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said, “We hope for a unified Iraq to annihilate Islamic State and certainly a unified Iraq to push back on Iran.” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the independence vote could be “potentially destabilizing” and recommended that Baghdad and Irbil have talks with the Kurds to reach a compromise. Election day was peaceful yesterday, and 76% of the Kurds came out to vote. Arabs and Turkmen voted alongside the Kurds in Kirkuk. Yazidis, who have suffered so greatly at the hands of ISIS, voted in Bashiqa and Sinjar. Prime Minister Barzani said, in response fears that the United State and Europe would change relations with the region as a result of the vote, “We want negotiation and talks. We did the referendum to enable people to express their will. The next stage is not war or violence. Let’s come and talk. When they are ready, we are ready to fly to Baghdad to talk to them.” Neither Baghdad, nor Ankara, nor Tehran are open to talks as of now, and are resorting to threats of border closures and oil cutoffs, among other measures.

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