[Kurdish flags are seen everywhere in regional capital Arbil, the political heartland of President Massud Barzani. (AFP Photo)]
Arbil (Iraq): Iraqi Kurds are set to vote Monday in a referendum on independence for their autonomous northern region, a move Turkey has termed as "illegitimate" while Washington and many Western countries have warned that it will hamper the fight against the Islamic State.
As reported by AFP, Kurdish flags are seen everywhere in regional capital Arbil, the political heartland of President Massud Barzani, who initiated the referendum where most of the people said they would vote, though some also feared the possible consequences.
"We look forward to hearing what the situation will be after September 25, as most Kurds will vote for independence to fulfil our dream of an independent state," said labourer Ahmad Souleiman, 30.
"What we're afraid of is that our enemies have evil intentions towards us", he added.
Some five million Kurds are expected to vote in the three provinces that have since 2003 formed the autonomous region of Kurdistan but also in territories disputed with Baghdad such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
"We all support independence because we don't see the benefit of staying in Iraq. But we're afraid of plots by neighbouring countries," 27-year-old clothes seller Kamaran Mohammed said in Arbil.
Iran and Turkey have sizeable Kurdish populations of their own and fear the vote will stoke separatist aspirations at home. Hence, Iran upped the pressure on Sunday, announcing it had blocked all flights to and from Kurdistan at Baghdad's request.
Meanwhile, Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Sunday termed a planned independence referendum in northern Iraq as "illegitimate".
"Any status change, any new formation on the southern frontiers of Turkey will never be tolerated," Yildirim said while speaking at ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party's ordinary district congress meeting in the capital’s Mamak district.
Describing the referendum as "null and void", he said that Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) would be responsible for the possible developments after the referendum. according to Anadolu Agency.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag also urged that Monday’s planned independence referendum in northern Iraq should be cancelled outright, not merely postponed.
“We demand cancellation of the referendum so that it will not be held at a later date,” Bozdag told a ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party district congress in the central Yozgat province.
Referring to Massoud Barzani, the head of northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), he added, “We are telling Barzani and his administration: It is not over yet. Stop playing with fire and cancel the referendum decision.”
Bozdag also warned that the poll would cause catastrophe in the region and threaten the national security of Iraq and neighboring countries.
“It is a direct threat not only to Turkey's national security but also to the territorial integrity, political unity, sovereignty and national security of Iraq. It is also a direct threat to the national security of Iran," Bozdag said.
“So Turkey could never remain indifferent to such a development,” he added.