Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has demanded the annulment of this week’s referendum on the independence of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region amid soaring tensions between the central government in Baghdad and local Kurdish authorities.
“The referendum must be annulled and dialogue initiated in the framework of the constitution. We will never hold talks based on the results of the referendum,” Abadi said on Wednesday.
He added, “We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan under the constitution.”
The remarks came as Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani has said the vote will not lead to an immediate declaration of independence from the rest of the Iraqi territory, and would rather open a chapter in negotiations with the Baghdad government.
Abadi has described the vote as illegal and unconstitutional, stressing that its results would not serve as the basis for talks.
Kurds voted 92% in favor of independence from Iraq
Moreover, Kurdish officials said on Wednesday that the referendum on independence from Iraq was approved by more than 92 percent of voters.
Hendrin Mohammed, the head of the Kurdish region's election commission, announced the official results at a press conference in Erbil, saying the referendum passed with 92.73 percent support, and turnout stood at more than 72 percent.
Mohammed said vote counting was complete and that the results would be considered final once they are certified by the Kurdish region's department of justice.
KRG rejects ultimatum on handing over control of airports
Meanwhile, the KRG has rejected Abadi’s ultimatum that the Kurdish region must hand over the control of its international airports by Friday if it seeks to avoid an international air embargo.
Acting KRG Transport and Communications Minister Mawlud Murad Muhyadin told reporters on Wednesday that keeping control of airports and maintaining direct international flights to Erbil, which is the capital city of the Kurdish region and located approximately 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Baghdad, was necessary for the campaign against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.
FlyDubai to halt flights to Erbil
The developments come as low-cost airline FlyDubai says it may suspend service to Erbil from Saturday on, after Iraq called on international carriers to halt flights to the Kurdish region following the divisive independence referendum.
The carrier said in a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday that its Friday flight will operate as scheduled.
“We are aware of the situation and are liaising with our local representative regarding our operations from Saturday,” the statement read.
Earlier, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority sent a notice to foreign airlines, telling them that international flights to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah would be suspended at 1500 GMT on Friday, and only domestic flights allowed.
Both Lebanon's Middle East Airlines and EgyptAir have announced that they would halt flights to Erbil this week at the request of Baghdad.