ERBIL (Iraq) • Kurds have voted overwhelmingly to secede from Iraq, with 92.7 per cent approving a controversial referendum that was held on Monday, according to an official tally released yesterday.
While Kurds celebrated the result in the streets of their semi-autonomous enclave in northern Iraq, the bid for independence continued to roil Iraq's central government as well as powerful regional neighbours Turkey and Iran, and is shaping up to usher in a period of contentious wrangling over its implementation.
Early yesterday, Iraqi lawmakers authorised Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to deploy troops to the disputed city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq and urged for legal action against Kurdish leaders as a showdown escalated over the vote.
Parliament also called for the government to take control of all oil fields in the Kurdish region, bringing them under control of the ministry of oil.
Several regional airlines said they would suspend flights to airports in the Kurdish region in a sign of Baghdad's pressure to try to punish and isolate the Kurds.
The vote has led to a tense stand-off between the Kurdistan regional administration and Baghdad, setting off a crisis that has spiralled beyond Iraq's borders.
Several regional powers have threatened to impose a raft of punishing sanctions to forestall any further steps toward independence and force the Kurds to negotiate with Baghdad.
Both Iran and Turkey have separately held military exercises along their borders with the Kurdish region ahead of and since the vote.
Though it opposed the referendum and has since said it was disappointed the Kurds went ahead with it, the United States State Department said on Tuesday it would not affect Washington's longstanding partnership with the regional government.
In a speech to Parliament yesterday, Mr Abadi also demanded the annulment of the independence vote, saying Iraq would "not allow any violation of the Constitution".
Lawmakers called for the prosecution of Kurdish officials responsible for organising the referendum, including Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani.
Mr Barzani has said that the referendum is non-binding and is intended to kick-start stalled negotiations with Baghdad over Kurdish independence from a position of equity.