Iraqi troops, including Shiite Muslim militias incorporated into Iraq’s armed forces, are already in the Kirkuk area, and the American-led coalition is battling Islamic State militants elsewhere in the Kirkuk region. Kurdish troops known as pesh merga are deployed in Kirkuk, a multiethnic city they seized when the Iraqi Army fled an assault by the militants in 2014.
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The inclusion of Kirkuk and other disputed areas in the referendum enraged the Iraqi government, which interpreted the move as a land grab. Baghdad has accused the Kurds of illegally selling Iraqi oil from the Kirkuk oil fields through a pipeline that runs into Turkey.
The referendum on Monday was nonbinding outside Iraqi Kurdistan and was not internationally recognized.
Kurdish authorities in Erbil announced on Wednesday that 92.7 percent of those who went to the polls on Monday had voted for Kurdish leaders to seek independence.
About 72 percent of 4.6 million registered voters cast ballots, with about 2.9 million voting “yes” to independence and about 224,000 “no,” the Kurdish Independent High Electoral Referendum Commission reported.
The announcement of the results, broadcast on Kurdish-run television, is likely to further escalate tensions in the region, where the landlocked Kurdish enclave is surrounded by countries opposed to the referendum.
Mr. Abadi, speaking to Parliament on Wednesday, said Iraq would not negotiate with the Kurds unless they annulled the results of the vote.
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Saying he had warned the Kurds “of the consequences of the crisis with Kurdistan,” Mr. Abadi added, “The preservation of the security of the citizens of the country is our priority.”
The government would protect all citizens, including Kurds, Mr. Abadi said, but he added, “We will call to account anyone who has participated in the referendum.”
Iran and Turkey also objected to the referendum, fearing unrest by their own Kurdish minorities. The two nations have conducted military exercises on their borders with Iraq near the Kurdish enclave and have threatened sanctions. Iraqi troops have taken part in the Turkish exercises.
On Wednesday, a delegation from the Iraqi military was sent to Iran to “coordinate military efforts,” a military statement said.
The Kurdish’s region’s transportation minister told reporters in Erbil on Wednesday that the Kurdish Regional Government would not cede control of the airports and called the Iraqi ultimatum “political and illegal.” The minister, Mawlud Murad, said the airports were critical to the American-led coalition’s fight against Islamic State militants.
Mr. Murad said the Kurdish government had offered to negotiate the airport ultimatum with Baghdad. The region’s other international airport is in Sulaymaniyah, in northeastern Iraq.
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The coalition operates from a secured military base next to Erbil International Airport. The United States, which pressed the Kurds to call off the referendum, has significant military and intelligence assets in Iraqi Kurdistan.
American officials have said they objected to the independence vote because they feared it would destabilize Iraq, stir ethnic conflict and undermine the American-led coalition.
Pesh merga fighters have played a central role in the coalition’s operations against the militants, fighting alongside Iraqi Army units that include Shiite Muslim militias whose leaders have condemned the independence vote.
A vocal minority of Kurds, some members of a movement called “No for Now,” called the referendum a political ploy and said the region lacked the democratic institutions necessary for statehood.
Many opponents of the referendum said they favored independence at some point, but voted no or stayed home because they did not want to support the region’s president, Massoud Barzani, who spearheaded the referendum. Political opponents of Mr. Barzani accuse his ruling party of corruption, incompetence and nepotism.
Mr. Barzani set up the referendum in hopes of obtaining a strong public mandate for eventual independence that he could use to begin negotiations with Baghdad. The Iraqi government, faced with losing a third of its territory and access to oil revenues and natural gas reserves, is resisting with tactics such as the airport ultimatum and the troop request.
Kurds who voted “yes” have been celebrating since Monday evening, setting off fireworks, honking horns and affixing flapping red, white and green Kurdish flags to their automobiles.
Even with the relations with Baghdad and neighboring countries deteriorating, government-produced banners and billboards in Erbil promoting the referendum have not been taken down.
Source: New York Times