Iraqi Kurds Vote Overwhelmingly For Independence; Despite Potential Threats

The electoral commission said 92% of the 3.3 million Kurds and non-Kurds who cast their ballots supported secession.

The announcement came despite a last-minute appeal for the result to be "cancelled" from Iraq's prime minister.

Haider al-Abadi urged Kurds to instead engage in dialogue with Baghdad "in the framework of the constitution".

Kurdish leaders say the "Yes" vote will give them a mandate to start negotiations on secession with the central government in Baghdad and neighbouring countries.

Iraq's parliament meanwhile asked the prime minister to deploy troops to the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and other disputed areas held by Kurdish forces.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters took control of Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic region claimed by the Kurds and Arab-led central government, when jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS) swept across northern Iraq in 2014 and the Iraqi army collapsed.

Baghdad has threatened to close Kurdish airspace at 6pm (1500 GMT) on Friday and Turkey says it is considering whether to shut its frontier with Kurdistan and impose a trade ban.

But in an attempt to calm ever more heated rhetoric, Abadi appeared to rule out the use of military force, saying on Wednesday: “We don’t want a fight between Iraqi citizens.”

Masoud Barzani, the de facto president of the region’s Kurds, had hoped to use strong support for the poll as political leverage that could eventually help negotiate independence from Iraq. His moves have been met with increasing hostility, raising the prospect of isolation and blockade.