The ballot was written in four languages, Kurdish, Arabic, Turkmen and Assyrian, reflecting the participation of the nationalities living in the Kurdistan region. There were 12,000 polling stations spread across the region, including KRG territory recognized by Iraq as well as areas also claimed by the Iraqi government, including the oil-rich Kirkuk province. Over 72 percent of the 4.5 million eligible voters participated.
“We have a language. We have a history. We have a geography. And we have suffered,” 73-year-old retired lawyer Saleh Mohammed told the Wall Street Journal coming out of his polling booth. “There have been wars and uprisings, and after every uprising, negotiations and agreements that were never implemented.”
“Today is a historic day,” said KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani after casting his vote. “Our message on this day is: The people of Kurdistan with all its components who live here want to peacefully and democratically express their opinion about their future and how it should look like.”
Celebrations of the vote spread across the border into the Kurdish region in Iran as well. Social media sites were full of photos and videos showing enthusiastic mobilizations in Bana, Saqqez, Mariwan, Mahabad, Bokan, Sardasht, Shno, Piranshar, Kamyaran and other cities. The largest celebration was reported in Sanandaj, where Rudaw reports nearly 20,000 people took part, chanting “Sandandaj supports you” in the city’s Freedom Square.
The over 30 million Kurds are the largest nationality worldwide without a state, divided by the imperialist victors in World War I between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
Threats against Kurds intensifyWashington and its imperialist allies, the capitalist rulers in Baghdad, and almost all the capitalist regimes in the Middle East demanded the KRG cancel the referendum right through the vote. Since then some have advanced political, economic and military threats against the KRG.
“The propertied rulers in the U.S., today`s dominant imperialist power, fear the Kurds` battle for independence,” said Osborne Hart, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of New York in a Sept. 20 statement. So do the rulers in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, where most of the Kurdish people live.
“This is because every step forward for the centurieslong struggle for the Kurdish people for self-determination anywhere,” Hart stated, “opens the door to new advances, inspiring Kurds wherever they live and others fighting imperialist domination, oppression and exploitation.”
Since the overwhelming independence vote, the anti-Kurdish drumbeat has grown shriller.
“We hope for a unified Iraq to annihilate ISIS [Islamic State]” and “to push back on Iran,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders cynically stated. Washington has maintained a tactical military alliance with Kurdish fighters in both Iraq and Syria as the most effective fighting force in combating the reactionary Islamic State. The U.S. rulers have used and betrayed the Kurds over decades when useful to advance their imperialist interests in the region.
The Iraqi parliament — with Kurdish delegates boycotting — called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send troops to Kirkuk to retake control. The Kurdish peshmerga defended the city, after Iraqi government troops fled when Islamic State swept across hunks of Iraq in 2014.
Baghdad also demanded the KRG relinquish control over the international airports in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. Some regional airlines, including Egyptair in Cairo and Middle East Airlines in Beirut, said they would suspend flights there beginning Sept. 29.
“We will call to account anyone who participated in the referendum,” Abadi said, threatening retaliation.
One pro-Tehran member of parliament went further. “The step that was taken by some racists in Kurdistan will bring instability to the entire region for years to come,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie from the ruling Shiite National Alliance. “The representatives of such efforts had established the state of Israel in 1948.”
The Iraqi government does not recognize the Israeli state, the only government in the Middle East that says it would recognize an independent Kurdistan.
The rulers of neighboring regimes with large oppressed Kurdish populations are united in targeting the KRG, fearing the example it sets. Iranian and Iraqi troops are conducting joint military exercises, as are Iraqi and Turkish troops, on their borders with the KRG.
The Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to retaliate. The KRG is landlocked and its biggest source of revenue is oil that reaches the market through a pipeline across Turkey.
“After this, let`s see,” Erdogan said, “who they sell [their oil] to. The valve is with us. It’s finished the moment we close it.”
But the KRG also has some defenders. “The Turkish policy will fail,” said Hadiye Yusuf, co-chair of the founding council administering the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria. If the KRG is attacked or blockaded, the Kurds there can count on support from Syrian Kurds, he said, and the Simalke border crossing from Syria into the Kurdistan region area will remain open.
While threats are flying, there is yet no combat on the ground. And the Turkish rulers have not closed their border with Kurdistan.
The Kurds were able to organize the referendum because of the space opened by the coming apart of Syria and Iraq and the conflicts between Washington, Moscow and competing capitalist regimes in the region seeking to bolster their national economic and political interests.
Its serves as an inspiration to others fighting to advance their rights around the world, like the people of Catalonia, currently fighting to vote on an independence referendum Oct. 1 over the fierce objection of the Spanish rulers.
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