Voting started on Monday (September 25) in an independence referendum organised by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, ignoring the threats of the Kurds’ neighbours and fears of further instability and violence across the Middle East.
The vote, expected to deliver a comfortable “yes” for independence, is not binding and is meant to give Massoud Barzani’s KRG a mandate to negotiate secession of the oil producing region with Baghdad and neighbouring states.
“We have been waiting 100 years for this day,” said Rizgar, standing in a queue of men waiting to cast a ballot in a school in Erbil, the KRG capital.
“We want to have a state, with God’s help. Today is a celebration for all Kurds. God willing, we will say yes, yes to dear Kurdistan.”
The voting is open to all registered residents, Kurds and non-Kurds, in the Kurdish-held areas in northern Iraq aged 18 or over, according to the referendum commission.
Voters should tick yes or no on the ballot paper asking them just one question in Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic and Assyrian: “do you want the Kurdistan Region and Kurdistani areas outside the (Kurdistan) Region to become an independent country?”
The referendum is held despite intense international pressure on Barzani to call it off, amid fears that it would spark fresh conflicts with Baghdad and with Iraq’s powerful neighbours, Iran and Turkey.