October 30, 2017
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Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said Sunday that he would step down as the semi-autonomous region's president on Nov. 1 after he pushed a Sept. 25 independence referendum that backfired. Barzani defended his decision to go ahead with the referendum despite warnings from Baghdad and threats from neighboring Turkey and Iran, which feared that the vote would reverberate in their own Kurdish populations. Barzani said the result of the vote, overwhelmingly favoring independence, "can never be erased," and that he believed the world would reward the Kurds with their own nation after their key role in defeating the Islamic State. The referendum, however, triggered a crisis in which Iraqi government forces seized oil-rich Kirkuk and other Kurdish-held areas also claimed by the central government. Dozens of protesters attacked the region's parliament building as Barzani announced his decision on TV. Harold Maass

September 26, 2017

Iraqi Kurds have voted in favor of a referendum for their independence, the Kurdish region's president, Masoud Barzani, announced Tuesday.

Countries in the region viewed the Kurdish vote with hostility. Iraq was opposed to the vote because a redrawing of its borders to accommodate Kurdistan would mean the loss of its oil-rich northern territory. In Iran and Turkey, "leaders feared the move would embolden their own Kurdish populations," The Associated Press reports.

Barzani declared Kurdistan would be "diverse and democratic," Al-Hayat's Joy Karam reports. Barzani said Sunday, ahead of the vote, that "we are ready to pay any price for our independence."

"We will take measures to safeguard the nation's unity and protect all Iraqis," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned in response.

The Kurds have been a major regional ally for the United States in the fight against the Islamic State, although America opposed their vote, citing the threat of "instability and discord." In fighting ISIS, though, Kurdish forces captured territory they claim they have a right to, including northwestern Iraq and the Iranian border to the east, AP adds.

"I feel so great and happy. I feel we'll be free," said one Kurd, Suad Pirot of Kirkuk, after voting on Monday. "Nobody will rule us. We will be independent." Jeva Lange