US ‘does not recognize’ Iraqi Kurdistan referendum: Tillerson

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (File photo)

The United States does not officially recognize a unilateral independence referendum held by the Iraqi Kurdish region, says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The controversial secession referendum was held on Monday in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in defiance of widespread calls for its cancellation.

According to Kurdish officials, over 90 percent of the voters said ‘Yes’ to separation from Iraq.

“The United States does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s unilateral referendum held on Monday. The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” Tillerson said in a statement on Friday.  

"The United States asks all parties, including Iraq's neighbors, to reject unilateral actions and the use of force," he said, adding, “We urge calm and an end to vocal recriminations and threats of reciprocal actions.”

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani (C-R) arrives to cast his vote in the Kurdish independence referendum at a polling station near Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Except for Israel, all major regional and international parties have voiced serious concerns over the secessionist move, saying it would compound the problems of the country, which is currently conducting counterterrorism operations against Daesh.

Iraqi Kurdish officials have been strongly criticized for holding the unconstitutional plebiscite before any negotiations and consultations with the central Iraqi government.

KRG President Masoud Barzani has said the vote would 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.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, however, demanded the annulment of the referendum, saying, “We will never hold talks based on the results of the referendum.”

This AFP file photo taken on March 29, 2017 shows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi attending talks of the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh.

Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also voiced opposition to the referendum, warning of the negative repercussions of such “unilateral steps.”

Pressure has been building on officials in Erbil, Kurdistan’s regional capital, over the referendum, with regional carriers, including Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines submitting to Baghdad’s request to suspend their flights serving Iraqi Kurdistan.

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