Iraqi Kurds have voted in favour of declaring independence from Iraq in a controversial referendum that could have wide-ranging implications for the Middle East.
The official result, announced by the Kurdish electoral commission on Wednesday, represents a step towards independence for the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq and areas it claims, and puts Kurdish authorities on a collision course with their counterparts in Baghdad.
The poll took place on Monday despite vehement opposition from the Iraqi government, which described the poll as unconstitutional and has authorized use of force against Iraqi Kurdistan.
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the referendum to be annulled and for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to engage in dialogue as guided by the constitution. His comments come a day after he ordered the Kurds to yield control of their airports to the central government by Friday.
The KRG, however, says the referendum will give it a mandate for talks to secede from Iraq, although Baghdad has already ruled out such talks.
The vote was held across the autonomous region and in disputed territories, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a flashpoint city claimed by both sides.
Nearly all neighboring regional powers objected to the referendum, warning that independence could further destabilize the region.
On Tuesday, KRG President Masoud Barzani hailed the preliminary results and urged the world to “respect the will of the people of Kurdistan.”
“Let’s engage in a serious dialogue and become good neighbors,” Barzani said during a televised speech.