Masoud Barzani said that while the vote will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence, the region’s “partnership” with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is over.
The Kurdish region’s president detailed the abuses Iraq’s Kurds have faced by Iraqi forces, including killings at the hands of former leader Saddam Hussein’s army that left more than 50,000 Kurds dead.
“Only through independence can we secure a future where we will not have the past atrocities,” he said.
Baghdad, the United States and the United Nations have all voiced strong opposition to the vote set for Monday, warning it could further destabilize the region as Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to battle the Islamic State group.
Turkey renewed a bill on Saturday allowing the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria if faced with national security threats, a move seen as a final warning to Iraqi Kurds.
Earlier Sunday, Iran closed its airspace to flights taking off from Iraq’s Kurdish region following a request from Baghdad.
Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard also launched a military exercise Sunday in its northwestern Kurdish region, in a sign of Tehran’s concerns over the vote.
At the Irbil press conference, Barzani said he was unaware that Iran had closed its airspace, but that it was Iran’s “own decision.” The leader also confirmed that there had been shelling along Iran’s border with the Kurdish region.
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