Angry Iraqi PM demands annulment of Kurd independence referendum

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi on Wednesday demanded that this week’s vote on independence for the autonomous Kurdish region be annulled, as tensions soared between the Kurds and Baghdad.
The result of Monday’s non-binding referendum had not yet been announced, but an overwhelming “yes” vote was widely expected. Longtime Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani has said the vote will not lead to an immediate declaration of independence and should instead open the door to negotiations.
But Abadi — who rejected the referendum as illegal — told lawmakers on Wednesday there was no question of using its results as the basis for talks. “The referendum must be annulled and dialogue initiated in the framework of the constitution. We will never hold talks based on the results of the referendum,” Abadi said.
“We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan under the constitution,” he said.
Pressure has been mounting on the Kurds since the vote, not just from Baghdad but also from Ankara, with Turkey threatening a range of measures including cutting off key export routes for the region.
Pursuing a long-cherished dream of statehood, the Kurds went ahead with the referendum in defiance of widespread objections, including from the United Nations and United States.
It has raised fears of unrest and the possibility of a military confrontation involving the Kurds, who are key allies in internationally backed offensives against the IS group.
In a televised address late on Tuesday, Barzani had urged Abadi “not to close the door to dialogue because it is dialogue that will solve problems”.
“We assure the international community of our willingness to engage in dialogue with Baghdad,” he said, insisting the referendum was not meant “to delimit the border (between Kurdistan and Iraq), nor to impose it de facto.”
Baghdad has steadily pushed back against the vote.
Lawmakers passed a resolution on Monday to send troops to disputed areas where the referendum took place, but there have been no signs of a deployment yet.
Abadi said on Tuesday he would ban all international flights to and from Kurdistan in three days unless airports in its main cities Erbil and Sulaimaniyah were placed under his government’s control.
Iraqi authorities are also reported to have urged international carriers to stop flying to the regional capital Erbil.
Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines and EgyptAir both said on Wednesday they would halt flights to Erbil this week at the request of Baghdad.
Turkey fears the vote will stoke the separatist ambitions of its own sizeable Kurdish minority and on Tuesday President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Iraq’s Kurds risked sparking an “ethnic war”. — AFP