Iraqi Kurdistan is voting on independence today

Image: Preparations Continue for the Iraqi Kurdistan Independence Referendum

A Kurdish woman wears a necklace bearing the Kurdish flag as she takes part in a gathering in the Iraqi town of Bahirka to urge people to vote in the referendum. Safin Hamed / AFP – Getty Images

“The costs of proceeding with the referendum are high for all Iraqis, including Kurds,” Nauert added. “Already the referendum has negatively affected … coordination to dislodge ISIS from its remaining areas of control in Iraq.”

Many Kurds don’t see it that way. They see a country that, referendum or not, is already flawed and has not worked in their interests for decades.

“The region is already not stable,” said Omar Khoshnau, a 38-year-old salesman from Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “The war against ISIS is going to be more effective if Kurdistan is an independent state, because it is an ally for the international community, and we are the first who fought ISIS.”

What would a “yes” vote mean?

A nod for independence would be no doubt symbolic but its practical implications are harder to pin down.

The referendum question asks: “Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”

But it has no formal framework or mechanism for how this might work. Instead, the president has said the decision will be the trigger for meaningful dialogue with Baghdad.

According to Marianna Charountaki, a lecturer in Kurdish politics at the University of Leicester, the vote is mainly figurative anyway.

“The reality is that there’s already de facto independence and now we’re just talking about the outward appearance and official titles,” she said.

There are many sticking points, however, namely the disputed areas that the peshmerga have pushed into after the Iraqi Army fled ISIS. These include the key, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds seized in 2014 after the Iraqi Army fled from the jihadis.

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