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What is the tension between Iraq and its Kurds

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on September 26 gives authorities in Kurdistan 72 hours to hand the central government control of airports, warning he will otherwise ban international flights to and from the region.

world Updated: Oct 25, 2017 18:16 IST
Agence France-Presse, Arbil (Iraq)
Iraq and Kurds,Kurdish fights,Kurdish voters
Photos of Kurdish president Masoud Barzani hang on the walls of the central bazaar in Arbil, Iraq, Wednesday. In Sept. 2017, Iraq's Kurds celebrated their symbolic vote for independence, but instead of moving forward with negotiations toward a smooth divorce from Baghdad, they have lost their most important oil-producing city to Iraqi troops.(AP Photo)

Tensions have soared between Iraq and its northern autonomous Kurdish region since Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum a month ago.

Here are the key developments:

Millions vote

Despite weeks of threats and warnings, the vote goes ahead on September 25 with more than 12,000 polling stations opening for 5.3 million registered voters.

It is held in the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan — Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk — as well as in disputed border areas such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

Baghdad says the vote is “illegal” and the United States warns it will increase instability.

Neighbouring Turkey, concerned the vote could stoke separatist aspirations among its own Kurdish minority, warns the Iraqi Kurds they will face sanctions.

Iran, which has similar fears, has already announced it is stopping all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on September 26 gives authorities in Kurdistan 72 hours to hand the central government control of airports, warning he will otherwise ban international flights to and from the region.

A massive ‘yes’

The official results released on September 27 show that more than 92 percent of voters back statehood. Turnout is over 72 percent.

Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani says there will be no immediate declaration of independence but calls for negotiations.

But Abadi demands the vote is annulled. “We will never hold talks based on the results of the referendum,” he says. “We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan.”

Flights cut

Baghdad cuts the Kurdish region’s direct air links with the outside world indefinitely on September 29. Foreigners have already started leaving while they can.

The US says it does not recognise the referendum and its result which “lacks legitimacy”.

An empty shop in Irbil, Iraq. (AP File Photo)

On October 2, Iranian and Iraqi forces conduct joint military exercises near the border with the Kurdistan region.

Iran embargoes trade in fuel products with Iraqi Kurdistan.

An Iraqi court on October 11 orders the arrest of the chairman and two other members of the commission that organised the independence referendum.

Soldiers deployed

Kurdish peshmerga forces on October 12 block roads from Iraqi Kurdistan to Iraq’s second city Mosul in response to an increase in deployments and movements of Iraqi forces near the front line.

Abadi denies an attack is imminent, vowing to “preserve the unity of our country”.

On October 13, the Iraqi army launches an operation to take Kurdish-held positions around the provincial capital of Kirkuk, which has a Kurdish majority and took part in the contested referendum.

A senior Kurdish official says thousands of heavily armed fighters have been deployed to resist the offensive “at any cost”. He calls for international intervention.

October 15: The Kurds ignore a looming deadline set by Baghdad for their forces to surrender positions they took during the fightback against jihadists.

The following day, Iraqi forces take control of the city of Kirkuk as well as key military sites and an oil field.

The capture of more key oil fields in the disputed province on October 17 dashes Kurdish hopes of creating a viable independent state. Abadi says the referendum is “a thing of the past.

Conciliatory signals

October 18: Iraqi Kurdistan postpones presidential and legislative elections scheduled for November 1.

The Iraqi Kurdish regional government says on October 19 that it is open to talks with Baghdad. The next day, Iraqi forces retake control of the last sector of Kirkuk province.

October 22: Iraqi Kurdistan’s main opposition party calls for Barzani to resign.

October 25: Iraqi Kurdish leaders offer to freeze the outcome of the independence vote.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 18:15 IST