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Iraq takes control of borders ahead of Kurdish independence vote

President of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) Masoud Barzani speaks during a meeting 6 September, 2017 [Yunus Keleş/Anadolu Agency]
President of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) Masoud Barzani speaks during a meeting 6 September, 2017 [Yunus Keleş/Anadolu Agency]

Iraq’s central government asserted its authority by ordering all Kurdish regions to hand over control of border crossings and airports to the federal government yesterday night, before polling stations were opened to allow 8.4 million Kurds to vote in the historic independence referendum.

In an official statement, the country’s National Security Council requested countries around the world to deal with the Iraqi federal government exclusively; in a last ditch attempt to save Iraq from splitting.

The referendum has been a major flashpoint in the region. Months of international pressure has failed in getting Kurdish President Massoud Barzani to back down. Turkey, Iraq, even bitter rivals like US and Iran, as well as European states, have been strongly opposed to the referendum believing that it could fuel further instability and chaos in the region.

Israel is thought to be the only country that has publicly endorsed the election that could potentially see the break-up of Iraq. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his country’s support for an independent Kurdish state in a statement over a week ago.

Read: Israeli support for Kurdish statehood is a poisoned chalice

In its efforts to further isolate the Kurds, the central government in Baghdad has asked Iran, which has previously described the independence referendum as “untimely and wrong” to close its border with Iraqi Kurdistan. ABC News reported that Iran had also closed its airspace to flights taking off from Iraq’s Kurdish region following a request from Baghdad and that its powerful Revolutionary Guard had launched a military exercise in its north-western Kurdish region, in a sign of Tehran’s concerns over the vote.

Meanwhile Turkey renewed a bill on Saturday allowing the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria if faced with national security threats, a move that is seen as a final warning to Iraqi Kurds.

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