What's next after Iraqi Kurds vote on independence

Six British lawmakers to observe Kurdistan referendum

"After the defeat of Daesh [terrorist group] in Syria and Iraq, Kurdistan's referendum will result in escalation of tensions and crisis in the region", Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military advisor to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said on Monday. But Iraqi government officials maintain just the opposite, that the referendum will push the two sides further apart and make it even more hard to resolve longstanding disputes.

Kurdish officials say a "yes" vote will send a message Baghdad can not ignore, paving the way for negotiations aimed at a peaceful exit.

Iraqis in areas held by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad - voted to decide whether to secede from Iraq.

Thousands have died fighting for an independent Kurdistan, and tens of thousands of civilians were killed by Saddam Hussein's army.

Pressure from Baghdad and the worldwide community to call off the referendum has mounted over the past week.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the vote by Kirkuk provincial council as a wrong move, adding that the planned referendum was illegal and worthless. In Iran, the division of Iraq is viewed within the broader context of the possible further disintegration of Middle Eastern states.

The U.S., along with Turkey, the U.K., Iran and the Iraqi central government have urged Erbil to abandon the controversial poll but the vote went ahead Monday unhindered.

The measures announced by Al-Abadi even include military intervention, in case the elections generate violence.

Baghdad has also come out strongly against the referendum, demanding on Sunday that all airports and border crossings in the Kurdish region be handed back to federal government control.

Earlier Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would take political, economic, commercial and security steps against the Kurdish Regional Government.

After 2003, Kurdish leaders agreed to an Iraqi constitution that calls for negotiations over disputed areas, so holding the referendum in Kirkuk and other cities now is seen as provocative. Counter-terrorism operations targeting the PKK on the Turkish side of the border are ongoing, the statement said.

Iran and Turkey, which both worry it will stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizeable Kurdish minorities, were also increasing pressure on Iraq's Kurds, with Ankara saying it would shut its border and threatening to block key oil exports.

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