Iraqi Kurds await final referendum result as regional pressure builds

BAGHDAD, Kadhem al-Attabi and Nehal El-Sherif (dpa)– Iraqi Kurds awaited the official result of an independence referendum on Tuesday, as neighbouring countries rejected the vote and increased pressure on the landlocked autonomous Kurdistan region.
Iraq and Turkey have led continued criticism of Monday's vote, which is expected to reveal overwhelming support for independence in Kurdistan, according to initial results.

Iraq's army chief of staff, Major General Othman al-Ghanmi, said the two countries launched "a large scale" military exercise along their shared border, without providing further details.
Baghdad has repeatedly called the vote unconstitutional.
The Iraqi Kurdistan region was put under intense international pressure ahead of the vote, with warnings from many countries, including the United States, that it could destabilize the region.
The referendum has also raised alarm among Iraq's neighbours - particularly Turkey, Iran and Syria - due to concerns it could encourage their own Kurdish minorities to break away.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem renewed his opposition to the referendum, yet signalled that the government might be open for talks on autonomy with Syria's Kurds.
"This is subject to negotiations and dialogue," he told Russia Today, according to the Syrian official SANA news agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his line that the referendum held no legitimacy in the eyes of the Turkish government. He said that Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani betrayed Turkey by not consulting with Ankara over the decision to hold a referendum on independence.
Barzani's failure to seek Turkey's input on the vote was "frankly speaking [...] a betrayal of our country," Erdogan said in an address in Ankara.
"As soon as we begin to impose our sanctions, you will in any case be in a predicament," Erdogan said, addressing Barzani. "As soon as we close the valve, it's over," apparently referring to a pipeline used by Kurdistan to send crude oil to Turkey and global markets.
On Monday, Erdogan threatened to shut down this pipeline in response to the vote.
Iran is officially against the referendum, with President Hassan Rowhani saying the country "fully and completely" supports the central government in Baghdad. But a rejection of the vote could escalate the crisis and lead to unrest among Kurds in Iran.
Local media reported spontaneous street parties in several Kurdish cities in Iran after Monday's referendum, galvanizing fears that the independence drive by Kurds in Iraq could catch on in the neighbouring country.
Iranian lawmakers will meet on Wednesday to discuss the results of the referendum, after initial results indicated that more than 90 per cent of voters said they supported independence.
High-ranking members of the Iranian Security Council will also take part in the parliamentary discussion, according to a report from the ISNA news agency.
The final referendum result is expected within three days.
The European Union expressed its "regrets" in a statement that its calls for the referendum to be cancelled had been ignored.
The bloc noted that "Iraqi unity remains essential" in order to completely defeat Islamic State extremists in the country.
Egypt has also expressed its concern over possible negative consequence of the referendum and called for constructive dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad.
"Egypt urges all parties not to take any unilateral measures that could further complicate the situation," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the leader of Catalonia's separatist regional government, Carles Puigdemont, wrote on Twitter that he called Barzani to congratulate him.
The Catalan leader and Israeli officials were the only vocal supporters of the vote.

Tuesday, September 26th 2017
Kadhem al-Attabi and Nehal El-Sherif

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