Iraqi Kurds declared victory Tuesday night in an independence referendum held earlier this week, which supporters hope will end Iraqi sovereignty over a semi-autonomous region in the north of the country and establish an independent nation state for the Kurdish people.
Iraqi Kurdistan, which enjoys partial self-rule, is home to some three million people in northern Iraq.
On Monday, residents of Iraqi Kurdistan voted on an independence referendum backed by the local government which would separate the region from the Iraqi government and establish Kurdistan as an independent state. The Iraqi government has challenged the referendum’s legality and warned that the vote would only serve to destabilize the region.
Nevertheless, Kurdish voters appear to have backed independence by an overwhelming margin. Some 78% of eligible voters turned out for the referendum, with initial results suggesting “yes” won by a nine-to-one margin.
According to the Kurdish news agency Rudaw, the preliminary results of the vote are 91.83% “yes” versus 8.17% “no” out of 3,440,616 valid votes cast. The official results are expected to be released on Thursday.
Masoud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, did not wait for the official results, however, declaring victory Tuesday evening in a televised address.
“We may face hardship but we will overcome,” Barzani said, urging the Iraqi government and foreign powers “to respect the will of millions of people.”
Barzani called on the Iraqi central government to negotiate with the Kurdish Regional Government following the referendum – a move the central government has repeatedly refused.
The Turkish government warned that it would initiate political, economic, commercial and security steps against the Kurdistan Regional Government in response to the referendum.
“A referendum was conducted in northern Iraq, and only supported by Israel,” the Turkish leader said Tuesday. “If the PKK is celebrating before the ballot boxes are even opened, there is no innocence or legitimacy there. This should be known as that. The results are also shady in this referendum, which how and under what conditions it was conducted, is unknown.
“Who will recognize your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel.”