Tuesday 20 March 2018

Joy for Iraqi Kurds after vote - but fears linger

An Iraqi Kurdish woman who voted in the referendum. Photo: AP
An Iraqi Kurdish woman who voted in the referendum. Photo: AP

Josie Ensor

Women came dressed in their finest, the men in traditional Kurdish sarwal pants and sashes.

For some of the older voters, yesterday's historic referendum on Kurdish independence was too much, and they broke down in tears as they walked out of the voting booths in Kurdistan's capital, Erbil.

"Today we will finally be a nation, just like the UK," Khano Darwesh (77) said as he showed off his ink-stained finger. "Our people have been fighting for over 100 years for this moment."

He joined three million other residents of Iraqi Kurdistan who turned out to vote yesterday.

For Mr Darwesh, who was not deterred by the two-hour queue, it was only the second time he had ever voted in his life. The last was Kurdistan's 2005 local presidential election.

"Nobody wanted this but here we are today," he said, slamming his fist on his chest. The polls closed at 6pm yesterday and while the result is expected later this week, it is a foregone conclusion. Iraqi Kurds have long dreamed of independence - something the Kurdish people were denied when colonial powers drew up the map of the Middle East after World War I.

However, yesterday's vote, called by Masoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan, has been rejected by just about every world power, amid concerns it could threaten the fragile stability on the region's borders.

Iraq has called it unconstitutional, with its parliament demanding yesterday that troops be sent to areas contested by the Kurds that were included in the referendum. Turkey, unsettled at the prospect that the vote might provoke the separatist dreams of its own Kurdish minority, has threatened that Kurdistan will pay "a price" in the event of a yes vote.

Amid escalating tensions, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, yesterday announced the country was closing its borders to Kurdistan before threatening to halt all oil exports.

The Iraqi Kurds export an average 600,000 barrels per day through a pipeline running through Turkey to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. The landlocked Kurdistan regional government imports 80pc of its goods and is heavily reliant on oil exports for revenues.

The UK and US, which have allied with Kurdistan's Peshmerga military in the fight against Isil in northern Iraq, had urged Mr Barzani to delay the referendum, saying it would only distract from the fight against the jihadists.

Mr Darwesh, who for 45 years fought for independence as a soldier in the Peshmerga, said he believed his people would not be safe until they had a state of their own. (© Daily Telegraph London)


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