Kurds in northern Iraq have voted overwhelmingly to secede from the nation, with nearly 93 percent approving a referendum held on Monday.
The referendum is considered a historic event which brings Kurdistan, which is backed by the United States and Israel, one step closer to a century-old dream of statehood but risks fuelling a new regional conflict.
The vote was held across the autonomous Kurdish region’s three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad, including the oil-rich and ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk.
Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, who called the referendum, believes the “Yes” vote will give Kurds a mandate to start negotiations on secession with the central government in Baghdad.
However, Iraq has said it will not recognise the vote and is not willing to negotiate.
On Wednesday it stepped up efforts to isolate the Kurdish region, demanding that foreign governments close their diplomatic missions in the Kurdish capital, Arbil, and threatening to close its air space.
“We will impose the rule of Iraq in all of the areas of the KRG, with the strength of the constitution,” Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said. “There will be no fighting between the sons of one country, but we will impose the law, you will see.”
For its part, Turkey, which is worried its own Kurdish minority will be inspired by the vote, has threatened to impose sanctions on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Iran has taken a similar stance for similar reasons.
Nearly all of Kurdistan’s allies, with the exception of Israel, have warned they will not recognise the results, saying it was destabilising at a time when the country is still struggling with the threat of ISIS.