World

Kurds Vote Yes For Independence

REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent

Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted to become an independent country Monday in a move likely to increase tensions in the Middle East and with the international community writ large.

Kurdish leaders indicated before the vote that separation from Iraq would not happen immediately but would be used as a benchmark for future policy. Iraqi leaders strongly opposed the referendum, and the country’s own supreme court nullified it as illegitimate before the vote even took place.

The Iraqi government also indicated it is not above using military force to secure some areas of Kurdistan, particularly those disputed areas with Sunni and Shiite arabs. Turkey and Iran also issued a joint statement before the referendum warning of “counter-measures” if the country took any move at independence too quickly. Both countries have large Kurdish minorities within their own populations.

Nearly the entire international community opposed the referendum, indicating an independent Kurdistan is unlikely to get recognition except for a handful of states. The U.N. warned the vote could be “potentially destabilizing” saying “all outstanding issues between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise.”

The U.S. in particular tried for months to get the referendum called off saying it distracted from the broader Iraqi and regional mission of defeating the Islamic State.

The U.S. Department of State issued a particularly scathing message before the vote on Sept. 20 saying “the costs of proceeding with the referendum are high for all Iraqis, including Kurds. Already the referendum has negatively affected Defeat-ISIS coordination to dislodge ISIS from its remaining areas of control in Iraq,” adding “the referendum may jeopardize Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional trade relations, and international assistance of all kinds, even though none of Iraq’s partners wish this to be the case.”

The referendum’s result is likely to remain a shadow over the remaining U.S.-backed mission to defeat ISIS and the Iraqi governments decades long effort to rebuild Iraq after years of war. The referendum could also effect the independence prospects of Syrian Kurds, who are allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

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