'We will never go back to Baghdad': Iraqi Kurds push forward with independence vote

'We will never go back to Baghdad': Iraqi Kurds push forward with independence vote

Iraq's Kurds will go ahead with an independence referendum today after a potential partnership with Baghdad failed, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) says.

"We will never go back to the failed partnership [with Baghdad]," KRG President Massoud Barzani said.

Mr Barzani added that Iraq's Kurds will seek talks with the Shiite-led central Government to implement the expected 'yes' outcome of the referendum, even if they take two years or more, and to settle land and oil sharing disputes ahead of independence.

He also said he believed Iraq had become a "theocratic, sectarian state" and not the democratic one that was supposed to be built after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also made a televised address about the referendum, which his Government opposes as anti-constitutional.

The vote, he said, '"could lead to ethnic divisions, exposing [the Iraqis] to disastrous dangers that only God knows".

But Mr Barzani dismissed the concern of Iraq's powerful neighbours, Iran and Turkey that the vote could destabilise the region, committing to respecting the laws on international boundaries and not seek to redraw region's borders.

Iranian authorities stopped air traffic to the international airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan, on a request from Baghdad.

"Turkey will never ever tolerate any status change or any new formations on its southern borders," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.

"The KRG will be primarily responsible for the probable developments after this referendum.''

But Mr Barzani said Ankara "won't benefit" economically should it close the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.

Tehran and Ankara fear the spread of separatism to their own Kurds.

The KRG has resisted calls to delay the referendum by the United Nations, the United States and Britain who fear it could distract from the war on Islamic State militants should it lead to unrest in disputed areas like multi-ethnic oil-rich Kirkuk.

"Only independence can reward the mothers of our martyrs," Mr Barzani said, reminding the international community of the role played by the Kurds in the war on Islamic State militants.

Reuters