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Counting begins after high voter turnout in Kurdistan referendum

By Rudaw 25/9/2017

See here for live results.


11:45 pm

Voter turnout 72.16 percent

Voter turnout was 72.16 percent, the election commission has announced. 

Of 4,581,255 eligible voters, 3,305,925 cast ballots, Shirwan Zirar, commission spokesperson said in a press conference Monday evening. 

The breakdown of eligible voters was 3,985,120 in the Kurdistan Region and Kurdistani areas, 497,190 displaced from disputed areas and living in camps in the Kurdistan region, and 98,945 from the diaspora. 

In the lead up to the referendum, the commission had stated 5,338,000 people were eligible to vote. 


10:08 pm


Canadian PM will ‘respect the process’ of Kurdistan referendum, refrain from comment

Canadian Prime Minister has declined to comment on Kurdistan’s referendum, opting to respect the process that is in place and calling to mind Canada’s own history of sovereignty movements, according to Global News.

Too early to weigh in, “as a Quebecker I’m very sensitive to other countries weighing in on internal decisions around the future of a country or separation questions. I was involved in two referendum campaigns in Canada where we very much appreciated foreign interlocutors not weighing in on what Quebeckers should be choosing and Canadians should be choosing. And I’m going to respect the process in place.”

Trudeau is a native of the French-speaking province of Quebec that has held referenda on sovereignty in 1980 and 1995.




“We hope for a unified Iraq to defeat ISIS and to push back against Iran,” said White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders when asked about Kurdistan referendum during a press conference on Monday. 



8:19 pm

UN reiterates concerns about ‘potentially destabilizing’ referendum

The United Nations has reiterated its concerns about “the potentially destabilizing effects of today’s referendum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq,” according to a statement from Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the Secretary-General. 

“The Secretary-General respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and considers that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise,” the statement read. 

The UN chief also called on authorities in the country to ensure UN activities in Kurdistan and Iraq “will be allowed to continue unhindered.”


8 p.m.

Strong voter turnout reported an hour ahead of polls closing

Preliminary turnout in the independence referendum vote as of 6 p.m. is as follows, according to Kurdistan's electoral commission. Polls closed at 7 p.m. (Erbil time).

Erbil: 84

Kirkuk: 78.77

Duhok: 90

Zakho: 94

Akre: 94


Soran: 86

Nineveh Plains: 86

Khanaqeen: 92

Jalawla: 87

Qaratapa: 62

Jabara: 76

Makhmour: 87.3


7:50 p.m.


High voter turnout in referendum 


Voter turnout across Kurdistan was 78 percent until 6 p.m., which was one hour before voting stations closed, the electoral commission told Rudaw.



7:00 pm


Polls are now closed, the electoral commission confirmed. 

Voting ended in the majority of areas at 7pm after a one-hour extension. Polls closed in Kirkuk at 6pm.


The vote count began immediately after the stations were closed. The Kurdish commission have said that they expect to declare the first results within 24 hours.



6:28 p.m.

The people of Kirkuk have flocked to the streets, in an early celebration of the success of the independence referendum in the city.
Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim has asked people to remain calm and not cause tensions by shooting their guns into the air.
A curfew will be imposed in Kirkuk after polls close.




5:54 p.m.

Kirkuk governor slams deployment of Iraqi forces, urges calm
Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim slammed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s order to deploy troops to disputed areas at the request of the Iraqi parliament in order to "protect citizens."
"The Iraqi parliament's activities have unfortunately only been to issue decrees against the people of Kurdistan. Therefore it has lost value."
Karim denounced the MPs who asked Abadi, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to issue the order.
"My question is: how many of the MPs are ready to be sent as soldiers to these areas. Or do they want to send the people’s children to be killed while they sit there making huge lies."
Karim urged referendum revelers to stay calm and not cause tensions while expressing their joy on this historic day.
"I am calling on all the people of Kirkuk to calmly go back home and wait for the result... until it is out, which I am sure will be in favor of ‘Yes.’ Let us be patient. Let there be no celebratory shooting. Keep this shooting for when it’s needed to protect Kurdistan and the city of Kirkuk," Karim said.
He went on to say "I am calling on all parents, all veteran Peshmerga, all members of the parties and their leaderships, religious preachers, mosques... to ask people not to pour into the streets and shoot."
There have been reports of celebratory gunfire in the city.
"It is true that this referendum has proceeded in a beautiful way without problems, but there are foes waiting to damage Kirkuk's stability in order to blacken this referendum in front of the people." 
"It is really, really important for us, as I am reiterating once again, that for the sake of our martyrs' blood, for the sake of the mothers, spouses, and children of the martyrs, please do not take to the streets and do not shoot."


5:48 p.m.


Voting will be extended for one hour, said Karwan Jalal of the election commission.

Polls will now close at 7pm. 

Most recent figures are that 73 percent of eligible voters have cast their ballots. 



5:41 p.m.

A curfew on vehicles will be imposed in Kirkuk from 6pm until further notice, according to Rudaw's Hiwa Husammedin, citing local security officials.

Polls close at 6pm.


5:29 pm


China supports Iraqi 'territorial integrity,' regional stability

“The Chinese government supports Iraq’s sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a daily press briefing in Beijing on Monday when asked about the Kurdistan referendum, according to Reuters.

Beijing is hopeful that all sides can solve their outstanding issues in a way that is "inclusive" and takes into account "history and reality."

“We hope the relevant sides can resolve the differences via dialogue, and find an inclusive solution that takes into account history and reality, to jointly protect Iraqi and regional stability,” Lu added.



5:11 pm


Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi forces say they are prepared to do battle in Kirkuk, after the Iraqi prime minister ordered troops to disputed areas to “protect citizens.”

“Our next target will be Kirkuk and the disputed areas occupied by outlawed gangsters who do not abide by the orders of the commander-in-chief,” Karim Nuri, a commander from the Hashd said, AFP reported. 

Kirkuk is currently under the control of Peshmerga forces. PM Haider al-Abadi ordered troops to deploy to areas that have come under Kurdistan’s control since 2003.



5:03 pm

Syria 'does not recognize' referendum: FM

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that his government recognizes only a unified Iraq, expressing Syria’s rejection of any measure that leads to partitioning Iraq, state-run SANA news agency reported.

"This step is rejected and we don’t recognize it," said Moallem from New York, adding that he informed his Iraqi counterpart of the stance.



4:56 pm

Baghdad has ordered troops to disputed areas to “protect citizens.”

“Dr. Haider al-Abadi directs security forces to protect citizens from threats and force that they may face in areas under the control of the [Kurdistan] Region,” Abadi’s media office announced on Twitter. 

The decision to send troops was made by Iraq’s parliament on Monday, according to AFP. A parliamentary resolution demanded that Abadi, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, deploy forces to “all of the zones the autonomous region of Kurdistan has taken control of since 2003.”

These areas include Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Makhmour, Shingal, and Jalawla.


4:31 p.m.

As of 3pm, 65 percent of eligible voters have cast their ballots. 

Polling stations remain open until 6pm. 



4:26 p.m.

A Kurdish bride and groom in their wedding clothes cast their votes for Kurdistan independence at a polling station in Garmiyan region's Kalar city.



4:02 p.m.

Halabja hopes referendum is a process to heal wounds

As voting for the independence referendum continue across the Kurdistan Region, the people of Halabja who suffered the most brutal mass killing during Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical gas attack  have headed to ballots — many voting for an independent Kurdistan. 

"We have come to vote for the independence of Kurdistan because it is a process in the interest of all Kurds," said a Kurdish man while voting, hoping "after this referendum and process all these wounds be healed."


"I have a great feeling; it feels as if I have just born. We hope it puts an end to all the sufferings of Kurdistan’s people like displacement, Anfal and chemical bombings," said another man, urging Kurdish people to always be "united and resolve its internal issues and face its enemies unified as our enemies are united against us."



3:55 p.m.

Putin calls Erdogan, agree to continue 'thorough' talks on regional issues

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on Monday.

According to the Kremlin, it was agreed the two will continue "a thorough exchange of views on the regional and bilateral agenda."

Putin will travel to Ankara for "working meeting" on Thursday.

CNN Turk also confirmed the telephone call, which also focused on the Syrian conflicts.




3:40 p.m.

Kurdish presidency urges responsible expressions after referendum

The Kurdistan Region Presidency asked the people of Kurdistan to be committed to the nation's culture and high values when expressing joy and happiness after the referendum voting process.

The statement on Monday also urged the people to refrain from uncivilized and provocative acts such as celebratory shootings as sign of expressing joy and to consider the stability of the cities and people's comfort.


Polls are scheduled to close at 6 p.m. (local time).


3:35 p.m.

UK calls on Iraq and Kurdistan to keep calm, focus on ISIS

The UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has called on the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to keep calm, and seek dialogue. 

"I urge all parties to remain calm [and] work together to defeat Daesh. Iraq’s future lies in dialogue. UK ready to help," Johnson tweeted Monday afternoon.

This comes as the Iraqi government has called on neighboring countries, such as Turkey and Iran, to close their borders, including the airports, in response to the Kurdish independence vote that is taking place on Monday.

The United Kingdom, among others, had earlier called on the Kurdistan Region to postpone the vote.



2:53 p.m.

Maliki calls vote 'declaration of war' against Iraqis' unity

Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki came out on Monday harshly against the Kurdistan Region's self-determinative vote on independence.

"Kurdistan's referendum is the declaration of war against the unity of the people of Iraq," said Maliki, the head of the Dawa Party and the Iraq's ruling State of Law Coalition.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is also a member of Dawa.




2:35 p.m. 

Abadi, Rouhani, Erdogan coordinate opposition against referendum

Turkey, Iran and Iraq had earlier said that they will take “coordinated measures” against the Kurdistan Region if referendum held.

Iran’s Hassan Rouhani separately talked on the phone with Turkey’s Erdogan and Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday. 

Rouhani praised the cooperation between the countries in the region, and added that they will not allow another “destability," Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported. 

Iran has said that in addition to closing its airspace on flights to and from the Kurdistan Region, they also closed the land gates between the two sides at the request of the Iraqi government on Sunday, the spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Affairs said,according to Tasnim news agency.

A Rudaw reporter earlier in the day said that the land border between Iran and Kurdistan was functioning as normal. 



2:25 p.m.

Iraqi lawmakers vote to close Kurdistan's border crossings

As part of continued measures Baghdad reacting to the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum, the Iraqi parliament voted on Monday to close off the international border crossings of the Region.

A Rudaw reporter in Baghdad said the voting came after Salim al-Jabouri, the Iraqi parliament speaker, ordered six committees in parliament — including oil and gas, foreign relations, security and defense, regions, legal and finance — to raise petitions against the Kurdistan Region.


2:18 p.m.

Turkey's Erdogan threatens to shut off oil pipeline, will close border


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara would close its border with northern Iraq over an independence referendum and threatened the Iraqi Kurds with blocking their key oil exports.

Erdogan commented on the Kurdistan referendum from the Islamic Cooperation Ombudsmen conference.

"Entrance-exit will be closed" at the Habur border crossing to the Kurdistan Region, Erdogan said in a speech as he angrily denounced Monday's referendum as "illegitimate," according to AFP.

He added: "After this let's see... who they sell (their oil) to. The valve is with us. It's finished the moment we close it."

"If there is a threat against us in Iraq and Syria, all options are on the table," he said.


1:28 p.m.

Group of British observers meet Kirkuk Governor

British MP Nadim al-Zahawi led a delegation from the United Kingdom to meet with Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim on Monday.

Zahawi is the first Kurdish member of British parliament. Photo: Marwan Ibrahim | AFP

People in diverse Kirkuk province are eligible to participate in the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum. Kurdish leaders have explicitly said the referendum isn't to draw borders.


Zahawi revealed the observing delegation includes six MPs and academics. Photo: Marwan Ibrahim | AFP

Karim has also said that he is open to a second referendum for Kirkuk because of its "special status." Kirkuk is a Kurdistani or disputed territory claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmerga and security forces provide security in the oil-rich city.


1:10 p.m. 

PM Barzani: Turkey has no better friends in the region than Kurdistan
Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has said that Erbil has never been a threat to Turkey, and will remain to not be so, adding that Ankara should also understand that they have no better friends in the region than the Kurdistan Region.
Speaking at a press conference only minutes after he cast his vote in the historic Kurdish independence referendum in Erbil, something opposed by Turkey, PM Barzani told reporters that Turkey, and others should see the vote for what it is — an expression of the will of the people exclusive for the Iraqi Kurdistan.
“We are not and will not threaten Turkey’s national security, and neither will we intervene in the Turkish affairs, not today, and neither in the future. We want to be a good neighbor,” Barzani said.



12:13 p.m.

Gorran leader votes for Kurdish independence

Omer Saed Ali, the leader of the Change Movement (Gorran) voted for the independence of Kurdistan on Monday.

"Yes, we voted 'Yes'," Ali told reporters after he voted.


12:05 p.m.

PM Barzani: We only want to show the will of our people to the world

The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government delivered remarks after voting in Monday's independence referendum.

“Today is a historic day. Our message on this day is: The people of Kurdistan with all of its components who live here want to peacefully and democratically express their opinion about their future, and how it should look like," said PM Nechirvan Barzani. 

He reiterated that independence is a process and it will not be declared tomorrow.

"What we see today in the Kurdistan Region, as part of the voting process for independence referendum, is not to declare the independence of Kurdistan the following day," said the PM.

The central government in believes the vote to be "unconstitutional" and regional countries have said it threatens the unity of Iraq.

"It is not to draw the borders of Kurdistan through this referendum either," Barzani retorted. "These two issues are of great importance for our neighbours and Baghdad to understand. We only want to show the will of our people to the world — that we want to walk towards independence through a serious process and democratic negotiation with Baghdad," Barzani said.

Erbil has maintained that the current arrangement that they committed to with Baghdad is not working.

"It has been some years, more than 20 years, that we have proved to our neighboring countries and to Baghdad, too, that we are a factor for peace and stability in the region, and we certainly remain so, as a factor for stability and security in the region — with our neighbours and with Baghdad, too," Barzani explained.




11:20 a.m.

Kurdish PM Nechirvan Barzani casts independence ballot


Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Nechirvan Barzani and his family voted for Kurdistan's independence in Erbil on Monday morning.




PM Barzani believes Kurdistan will remain a stabilizing factor in the region.


President Barzani, who voted earlier, also tweeted that he was proud to partake in this "historic day."




11:13 a.m.

Rojava: We help the Kurdistan Region if attacked

Hadiye Yusuf, the co-chair of the mainly Kurdish founding council in Northern Syria or Rojava, has said that the Simalke border crossing with the Kurdistan Region and other such crosses will remain open.

She said on Sunday the Kurdistan Region can depend on Rojava if it was attacked or a blockade imposed.

Yusuf added that “the Turkish policy will fail,” making reference to threats from Kurdistan's northern neighbor that threatened with sanctions if referendum held.

Rojava administration held its first local elections on Friday they announced a confederal system in Syria.

Turkey opposes the Rojava self-administration as it considers the Kurdish fighters there to be allied to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a banned organization in Turkey. Rojava denies the accusations.



10:51 a.m. 

Veteran Peshmerga: My 47-year struggle for independence bears fruit
Mahmud Sangawi, a Peshmerga commander from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told Rudaw minutes after casting his vote in the independence referendum on Monday that a decades-long dream of his party for self-determination had at last come true.

Sangawi is the commander of the Garmian region and he has been commanding some of the southern front lines against ISIS including the Khanaqin city. He said that they reassure the people that the area is safe, thanks to the Kurdish Peshmerga. 

"The front lines are safe. I used to say: leave the war to us, and the ballot box to people. But I am now saying that the front line and the ballot box are for us, too. I am proud that I was the first one to vote for the independence of my people, and for the souls of my fellow martyred comrades. I just added yet another bright piece to my 47-years long of struggle." 





10:33 a.m.

KIU leader votes in independence referendum

Head of Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) Salahaddin Bahadin has cast his ballot in the Region's independence referendum. 




10:30 a.m.

VP Rasul calls on Kurdistan, Kirkuk to vote in favor

Kosrat Rasul, encouraged people in the Kurdistan Region including Kirkuk cast ballots for independence.

"I am calling upon the people of Kurdistan and Kirkuk to go to vote 'Yes' for the independence of Kurdistan," said Kosrat Rasul, vice president of the Kurdistan Region.





10:10 a.m.

Turkey: Borders have not been closed with Kurdistan Region

Turkey's Customs and Trade minister has said borders have not been closed with the Kurdistan Region.

Rudaw reported normal movement of goods and people at the Ibrahim Khalil-border crossing gate.

Turkish customs minister Bülent Tüfenkci said the Habur border gate with northern Iraq was not closed, tight controls imposed on traffic, reported Hurriyet Daily News.



10:05 a.m.

Many come to the polls in Kalar, just north of Khanaqin 

As the doors at polling stations were opened at 8 a.m., large numbers of people headed to the ballots in the Garmiyan bloc's city of Kalar to vote in the independence referendum. Kalar is north of Khanaqin and near the border with Iran.



9:48 a.m.

Deputy PM Talabani calls today ‘first phase’ of long-term process

"I congratulate the people of the Kurdistan Region. I congratulate the honorable families of the Peshmerga martyrs. I congratulate the brave Peshmerga. Today is a historical day," said Qubad Talabani, deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) after he voted at a polling station in Sulaimani.

He described today's voting as just the start of this Kurdish struggle. 

"It is the beginning of a struggle today in which we hope after a talking process with Iraq, with our neighbors, friends and rivals, be able to reach our nation's  objectives, be able to fulfill the dream grew with us since childhood," he said. "Today marks the first phase in a long-term process. A process its result will come out after many discussions.” 

He said the Kurdistan Region's referendum does not have to be viewed as a threat to any of the neighboring countries.

“We just ask our nation a question; do you want to live in an independent state and today our nation will be answering that question. It is not that we are declaring independence tomorrow,” added Talabani.

He said the neighbors of the Kurdistan Region already know the answer of today's referendum vote. 

"Therefore, we are calling upon our neighbors our friends and the Iraqi government to talk to us and understand our intentions, understand our programs as we will not do something which surprises anyone," he urged.


Qubad Talabani, the deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Region, speaks to reporters in Sulaimani after casting a ballot on independence on September 25, 2017. Photo: Rudaw TV



9:44 a.m.

Arabs on western border with Syria head to the polls

Arabs in the border town of Rabia say their fate is tied this, the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum. 


“We are in debt to the Kurdistan Region. And the second thing is that we want to determine our fate and the fate of our future generations. We have had relations with the Kurds since the previous generations, and we have strong relations with them,” an Arab voter told Rudaw in Rabia, near the Syrian border. 





9:20 a.m. 

Kurdistan Region closes borders

As typical on voting days, Kurdistan Region has closed its borders until the end of the independence referendum. Rudaw's reporter says a border crossing with Iran, Parwezkhan, remains open.

Live: People cast their votes on Kurdistan independence referendum


8:45 a.m.

Governor Najmaldin Karim casts ballot in Kirkuk

"Today, like any other citizen in Kirkuk, I have come to vote in order for the Kurdistan independence's process begin," said Najmaldin Karim, the Kirkuk governor.

Karim urged people across the Kirkuk province, including all groups living in the diverse city to head to the ballots and vote for an independent Kurdistan. 


Asked how would he assess the Arab and Turkmen's involvement in the referendum voting, Karim said "everybody's participation is important today. The city is theirs, too... We all live together here."

"Taking part in this [process] will bring about a beautiful and bright future for all the components," he added. 


Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim votes in the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum on September 25, 2017. Photo: Rudaw TV


The people of Kirkuk welcomed the opening of the ballot stations with Kurdistan's traditional Dahol u Zurna [drum and trumpet] music.



8:38 a.m.

President Barzani casts vote for Kurdish independence

Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, voted at around 8:30 a.m. in Erbil.



Makhmour polls open peacefully

People jubilantly head to the polling stations in the town of Makhmour, once briefly held by ISIS. Voters urge the people of the town to go to the ballots and vote.

"In the historical Kurdish peaceful movement, today marks the most important day because those who shed blood for today will rest," a voter in queue at a Makhmour polling station told Rudaw.

An older man said he would never forget the 20-year-long imprisonment he endured at the hands of Iraq’s former Baathist regime.

"How could I forget those? Today I am here to vote wholeheartedly," he said 

He urged all people living in Makhmour to head to the ballots and fill them before noon.


8:15 a.m.

Voting begins in historic Kurdistan independence referendum

8 a.m. 

Voting has begun across the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani or disputed areas at 8:00 a.m., local Erbil time.

People across the region have queued in long lines outside polling stations to cast their vote.

The polls are to close at 6 p.m. 


Video: People queue to cast their vote in Duhok on Monday, September 25, 2017. 



7:35 a.m.

Kurdistan votes in historic independence referendum

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – People in the Kurdistan Region are heading to the polls this morning in a referendum that would allow them to decide whether they want to stay with Iraq or separate and form an independent state in a Yes or No vote.

Voting started for the Kurdish diaspora on September 23 and will continue throughout today. Results so far show that close to 98 percent of Kurdistanis living abroad have voted Yes.

Campaigning ended on Friday without any major political party voicing opposition to the process.

The election commission that oversees the process has said that they are expecting initial results to come out within 24 hours after the polls close at 6:00 p.m. local Erbil time. 

Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said on Friday that the voters can to choose between subordination or freedom.

The Kurdish people faced a genocide campaign under the former Iraqi regime such as the infamous Anfal campaign that killed 182,000 people and the Halabja chemical attack, the largest chemical attack ever carried out against a civilian population in history. It killed 5,000 people. 

Barzani told reporters and world media in a press conference on on Sunday that the referendum was the legitimate right of the people of Kurdistan, wondering why any democratic country should oppose the free expression of a nation’s will.

He said that years of efforts to be equal partners with Iraq had failed and that Iraq’s sectarian nature didn’t welcome the Kurds.


A sample of the ballot paper. The question being posed in Kurdish, Turkmen, Arabic and Assyrian languages is: Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state?  Voters can choose ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed


The central government of Iraq has called the vote unconstitutional, unilateral and that it will not recognize the results. Kurdistan’s neighbour’s neighbors, Iran and Turkey have opposed the vote, too.

Further away, the United Nations, and the United States, among others, have also expressed their opposition, mainly citing fears that that it may have a negative impact on the war against ISIS and destabilize the region.

President Barzani reassured all on Friday that the focus will remain on the war against ISIS and that the Kurds will continue to cooperate militarily with the Iraqis and coalition forces. 

Kurdish leaders have long accused the Iraqi government of violating about one third of the Iraqi constitution, including Article 140 that had to determine the fate of the Kurdistani or disputed areas by 2007 such as the oil-rich and multi-ethnic province of Kirkuk. 

Kirkuk’s provincial council decided that the city will take part in today’s vote.

Sheikh Jaafar, a high-ranking Peshmerga official told Rudaw that the security forces, including the Peshmerga are all on duty in Kirkuk to ensure a smooth process.

Video: a voting station in Kirkuk on Monday morning, September 25, 2017. 


Kurdistan's independence referendum explained

Historical context

More than five million people are eligible to vote when the people of Kurdistan head to the polls on Monday, September 25, to decide whether they want to leave or stay with Iraq.

With an estimated global population of between 30 and 40 million, the Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups without a state. Under the post-WWI Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, Kurdish lands were divided between Turkey, Iraq, and Syria,

Kurds in all four parts of what is known as Greater Kurdistan have faced persecution, discrimination, and genocide, and have fought at times for greater rights, autonomy, and independence. 

In Iraq, Kurds make up 17 to 20 percent of the total population. In the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq, Kurds have had a semi-autonomous government since a no-fly zone was established over their lands in 1991 after the first Gulf War.

The new Iraqi constitution that came into effect in 2005, after the US-led invasion of 2003, recognized the Kurdistan Region as a federal region with its own legislature and armed forces, the Peshmerga. Both Erbil and Baghdad have accused the other of violating the constitution. 

The September 25 referendum will take place in Kurdistan of Iraq only, not neighbouring countries.

High Referendum Council

The High Referendum Council consists of representatives from the majority of the Kurdistan Region’s political parties. It is chaired by Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani.

On June 7, the council set the referendum date of September 25.

Fourteen of Kurdistan’s political party attended the June 7 meeting, including three of the five members who formed a coalition government: Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU).

Gorran and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), the remaining two members of the coalition government, oppose the party-led drive for the vote, instead called  for the regional legislature to convene in order to give the referendum a parliamentary mandate. They however boycotted the parliament session that backed the vote. 


The question being posed in Kurdish, Turkmen, Arabic and Assyrian languages is: Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state?

Voters can choose ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Kurdistan Region and Kurdistani areas (voters)

A total 5,338,000 people are eligible to vote in the referendum.

The vote will be held in the four provinces of the Kurdistan Region: Duhok, Erbil, Sulaimani, and Halabja. A total of 3,280,462 people are eligible to vote from these four provinces according to the following breakdown: 

Erbil: 1,118,775 voters with 498 polling stations
Sulaimani: 1,299,820 voters with 476 polling stations
Duhok: 771,867 voters with 264 polling stations
Halabja: 90,000 voters with 27 polling stations

Kurdistani areas, the disputed zones claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil, are also able to vote if the local authorities opt to participate. A potential 1,907,538 of people are eligible to vote in the Kurdistani areas according to the following breakdown:

Kirkuk: 889,373 voters with 244 polling stations
Diyala province: 800,000 voters with 244 polling stations
Kurdistani areas of Nineveh province: 218,165 voters with 244 polling stations

Eligible Kurds in the diaspora are able to vote online. E-voting will is open from September 23 to 25. An estimated 150,000 eligible Kurds live in the diaspora.


*figures provided by Kurdistan’s Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission


People wave Kurdish flag in Paris, France as the nation was preparing itself to vote in the histroic referendum. There are an estimated 150,000 eligible voters abroad. Photo: AFP / Zakaria Abdelkafi.


‘Yes’ vote

The slogan for the ‘Yes’ vote campaign is Bale bo serbexor, meaning ‘yes for independence.’

The campaign is being led by a media coordination center that is under the authority of the High Referendum Council. 

All political parties in the Kurdistan Region except for Gorran support the ‘yes’ vote. Gorran is not advocating a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote, but states that the timing is not right to hold the referendum. 

‘No’ vote

The main ‘No’ vote campaign is led by the No for Now movement, formed by NRT media outlet owner Shaswar Qadir to rally voters against supporting the September 25 vote. They argue that now is not the time for Kurds to make a bid for independence.

No political party has officially advocated for a ‘No’ vote.

Reaction to the vote

The Iraqi government officially opposes the referendum, deeming it unconstitutional and therefore illegal. The Iraqi parliament has voted to reject the referendum and the Supreme Court has issued an interim ruling to suspend the vote.

Regional nations

Iran and Turkey are both opposed to the referendum. 

Tehran has said it supports Iraq’s territorial integrity and has encouraged dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad. The country’s Supreme National Security Council has said it would withdraw its representation to the Kurdistan Region and close its borders if the referendum proceeds as planned. Tehran is of the view that relations it developed with Erbil were predicated on Kurdistan Region being a part of Iraq. If Kurdistan separates, it will deem all relations with Erbil, including border traffic, to be null and void. 

Ankara has vocally opposed the referendum, hinting at possible sanctions against the Kurdistan Region. Turkey’s Security Council, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stated the referendum is a threat to its national security. Turkey particularly objects to the inclusion of Kurdistani regions in the vote as these include areas inhabited by the Turkmen minority. 

Most nations, led by the United States, have asked Kurdistan to postpone the vote until at least after the Iraqi elections due to be held in 2018. The US and others worry the referendum may distract from the war against terrorism, specifically ISIS, and may lead to further destabilization in Iraq. They have encouraged dialogue between Kurdistan and Iraq. 

The United Nations opposes the timing of the vote. The Secretary-General and the Security Council have expressed concern about the referendum being a distraction from the war with ISIS and an impediment to reconstruction of war-torn areas in order to allow internally displaced Iraqis to return home. The UN urges dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come out in support of the vote. 

Key dates

June 7, 2017 - The High Referendum Council announces the September 25 date.

August 13, 2017 - A multi-party delegation tasked by the High Referendum Council arrives in Baghdad for several days of meetings with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and foreign representatives in the Iraqi capital.

August 22, 2017 - US Secretary of Defense James Mattis visits the Kurdistan leadership in Erbil, requesting postponement of the referendum.

September 12, 2017 - The Iraqi parliament votes to reject the Kurdistan independence referendum

September 14, 2017 - The Iraqi parliament votes to remove Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim from his post. Karim has been a vocal supporter of the referendum and of holding the vote in the disputed province of Kirkuk. He has refused to abide by the parliament decision, arguing Baghdad does not have the legal authority to remove him

September 14, 2017 - The US, UK, and UN present a joint proposal for Kurdistan to postpone the referendum while offering to aid negotiations with Baghdad. The proposal was rejected by the High Referendum Council.

September 15, 2017 - The Kurdistan Region parliament votes to approve holding the referendum on September 25 and upholds the decisions made by the High Referendum Council. Sixty-five of 68 MPs in attendance in the 111-seat chamber vote in favour. Gorran and Komal boycott the session.

September 18, 2017 - Iraq’s Supreme Court issues an interim ruling suspending the referendum.

September 23, 2017 - A multi-party delegation tasked by the High Referendum Council visits Baghdad again. No progress is made in talks. 

September 24, 2017 - Iran closes its air connections with Kurdistan, cancelling all flights at the request of Baghdad.

September 24, 2017 - The Iraqi government demanded Kurdistan hand over control of all borders, including airports, to federal authorities and for all nations to deal exclusively with Baghdad in the movement of people and goods across the borders, including oil. 


Watch live as Kurdistan votes.



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Ian Birmingham | 25/9/2017
Ala | 25/9/2017
Yes to a free State of Kurdistan. Free Kurdistan! All peoples of Kurdistan will be free from genocide and tyranny.
Avihai | 25/9/2017
Good luck from Israel! May this mark the beginning of a new prosperous era for your brave nation!
Gerbert d'Aurillac | 25/9/2017
Other independence referenda, like the Scottish and the Canadian ones, went smoothe without any opposition neither from the concerned countries nor the UNSC, nor from neighbouring or remote contries.Both referenda failed in the ballots as the Yes vote lost to the No vote. Why the whole world is against this Kurdish referendum ? . There is certainly a honest explanation for a terribly dishonest and cynical fact : the fact is because the Kurds are thrown into the limbus of DENIAL, which means that even their name and their existance are forbidden ; therefore they are denied the elemental human rights and their extermination through genocidal campaigns have been tolerated and partially supported by world powers and the United Nations.As Saddam Husein was conducting his genocidal war on Kurds in the year 1988 the American president Ronald Reagan has infamously supported the criminal iraqi dictator and as evidence came in he shamefully denied that it was Saddam who gassed the Kurds.A black and shameful page of the US history , of which no honest Anerican citizen can be at ease ...
sardar akrei | 25/9/2017
how to find my voting place

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