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Iraqi Kurds await independence vote results

International | International groups warn the referendum could trigger more instability in Iraq
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 9/26/17, 01:43 pm

Iraqi Kurdish officials said more than 70 percent of Kurds showed up to vote in the region’s independence referendum Monday. As the Kurds await the results, the Iraqi government and several other regional leaders have threatened to respond forcefully if the push for independence continues. 

Sherman Zerar, the electoral commission’s spokesman, on Tuesday said about 3.3 million of the 4.5 million eligible voters turned out to cast ballots. Voters at more than 2,000 polling stations answered a single question: “Do you want the Kurdistan region and Kurdish areas outside the region to become an independent state?” Official results are expected later Tuesday, though the Kurds anticipate a “yes” majority in favor of independence.

Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, said the election’s outcome is non-binding and would only launch secession talks with Iraq’s central government and other regional leaders. “If we have a constructive dialogue, then we can give it even more time in order to secure better relations between the Kurds and Baghdad,” Barzani said

But Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in a televised speech Monday night, said Iraq is not ready to hold any dialogue about the vote’s outcome, deeming it “unconstitutional.” When Kurdish leaders refused to call off the referendum, Baghdad asked regional leaders to block their airspace and land borders with the Kurdish region. 

Members of the Kurdish minority also live in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, where governments fear the independence move in Iraq could trigger similar movements in their countries. Thousands of Iranian Kurds on Tuesday morning marched in support of the referendum. The Iranian government closed its airspace with the Iraqi Kurdish region and said it would hold a closed-door meeting Wednesday to address the vote. 

Turkish and Iraqi militants on Tuesday conducted joint military exercises at Turkey’s border with the Kurdish region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will consider all options, from economic sanctions to military intervention, if the Kurds continue to push independence. Turkey also could cut off a pipeline that allows the Kurds to export oil globally. 

“I hope the northern Iraqi administration gathers itself together and abandons this adventure with a dark ending,” Erdogan said, referring to the Kurds.

The United States and the European Union also raised concerns over possible violence that could follow the move for secession. In a statement released Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the referendum could have “potentially destabilizing effects” in the country. Guterres called on the Kurdish and Iraqi governments to resolve their issues “through structured dialogue and constructive compromise.” The UN Security Council voiced concerns the referendum process might hamper regional efforts to battle Islamic State militants.

Maria Fantappie, a senior analyst on Iraq with the International Crisis Group, said the referendum reflects more of Iraq’s internal disorder than the Kurds’ readiness for statehood. Fantappie said Iraq and regional leaders can prevent violence by their response to the vote’s outcome, noting the Kurds held a similar referendum in 2005.

“Unless Barzani takes the next, far more perilous step of seeking to move unilaterally toward independence, the referendum’s value will diminish over time as nothing on the ground will change … nor will the status of the Kurdistan region,” she said.

Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay Bora, twice a victim of rape by UN peacekeepers, poses for a portrait in the Congo Ituri province capital Bunia.

DRC at the heart of UN abuse allegations

The Democratic Republic of Congo has emerged as the epicenter of the United Nations sexual abuse crisis. More than 700 of the 2,000 global sexual abuse allegations against UN peacekeepers and personnel during the past 12 years have occurred in the country, according to an Associated Press report. A majority of the victims who now have children receive no help and face ridicule from their families. Peacekeepers first raped one of the victims, Bora, when she was 11. She bore a son. Two years later, another peacekeeper raped her and she conceived again. “I’ll never forget what happened to me,” she said. “It’s lodged in my heart.” The UN has promised reforms and said it provides aid to the young girls and women as they await paternity test results. But the problem still persists. The UN discovered a three-year child sex ring involving Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti and referred the case back to Sri Lankan authorities. None of the alleged perpetrators has faced prosecution. The report also noted William Swing, who led the Congo mission from 2003 to 2008—a peak period of abuse allegations—didn’t face punishment but instead secured a transfer to lead the UN’s International Organization for Migration. In 2017 alone, Congo accounts for nearly one-third of the 43 global allegations of sexual violence. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Richard Drew Associated Press/Photo by Richard Drew Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla addresses the UN General Assembly.

Cuba maintains innocence in mystery health attacks

Cuba claims its investigation into the mysterious health attacks against some U.S. and Canadian diplomats turned up no evidence about who or what caused them. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the United Nations General Assembly that Cuba will continue its investigation and called on the United States not to politicize the issue. At least 21 Americans and some Canadians in Havana’s diplomatic community have reportedly suffered symptoms ranging from permanent hearing loss to nausea and headaches. Cuba has denied responsibility for the attacks. Distrust has long plagued U.S.-Cuban relations. Former U.S. President Barack Obama restored bilateral relations with Cuba, reestablishing full diplomatic ties and easing travel restrictions. The two countries in 2015 reopened embassies closed since 1961. But in June, President Donald Trump announced he would reinstate trade and business restrictions on the country unless Cuba releases its political prisoners and schedules free and fair elections. Following the health incidents, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the United States might close its embassy in Havana. —O.O.

Myanmar officials accuse Rohingya of killing Hindus

Police in Myanmar, also known as Burma, said they discovered at least 48 murdered Hindus buried in three mass graves in Rakhine state—the center of ongoing conflict between government security forces and Rohingya Muslims. Maj. Zayar Nyein said authorities on Sunday discovered two graves containing 20 women and eight boys. They discovered the third grave containing 17 more Hindu villagers on Monday. Rohingya Muslim militants on Aug. 25 attacked government security posts in Rakhine state after accusing soldiers of killing and assaulting the beleaguered minority. More than 400 people died in the clashes. Police said some 100 Hindus have been missing since then and blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group for the killings. After the clashes, security forces staged counterattacks that have sent at least 420,000 Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh. Myanmar government officials denied claims that its security forces have engaged in ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. —O.O.

Kenya’s electoral commission pushes back election rerun

Kenya’s electoral commission has shifted the presidential election redo to Oct. 26 after the country’s Supreme Court detailed regulations for the new election process. The election was originally scheduled for Oct. 17. Kenya’s electoral commission said the court’s ruling will affect how it conducts the vote, including the technology used. The Supreme Court nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reelection in August and ordered a new election within 60 days. In a detailed explanation as to why it annulled the election, the court said the electoral commission failed to verify the results and give the court access to its computer servers to dispute opposition leader Raila Odinga’s claims that hackers infiltrated the system and altered the results. Kenyatta called the process “a judicial coup,” while Odinga called for reforms within the electoral commission ahead of the new elections. The commission appointed six new officials to lead the process. Last week, the commission’s legal and corporate affairs director, Praxedes Tororey, offered to withdraw from the commission ahead of the new election. —O.O.

UN brokers deal to stop use of child soldiers in Nigeria

The United Nations has reached an agreement with the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in northeastern Nigeria to end the use of child soldiers to combat Boko Haram. Under the deal, which also involves the northeastern Borno state government and Nigerian state authorities, the children will receive psycho-social support and participate in reintegration programs. The civilian force recruited more than 360 children between October 2015 and August 2017, according to the UN. “Anyone under the age of 18 would no longer be a part of the CJTF,” Jibrin Gunda, the force’s legal adviser, told London’s The Guardian. “We are doing our best to make sure we are on the right side of human rights codes.” —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Thu, 09/28/2017 04:32 pm

    Allowing the Kurds to move towards an independent Kurdish state would increase instability in Iraq?  

    There's been little stability in Iraq since we got rid of Saddam Hussein.  Not that we should have left him in power. But it would seem the ramifications of deposing him were not fully considered. 

    I am inclined to think we should support Kurdish independence. They've done a better job of resisting ISIS and seem to be more tolerant of non-Muslims than Iraq. We are worried about offending Turkey and Iraq, but both are questionable long-term allies. Supporting Kurdish independence could gain us a more reliable ally than either Turkey or Iraq.