CONTENT PREVIEW
Country Risk

Brinksmanship over Kirkuk following referendum will entail high risk of localised confrontations between KRG and Iraqi forces

26 September 2017

Key Points

  • Punitive actions by Turkey, such as a closure of the Khabur border gate or a suspension of the KRG’s exports through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, remain unlikely, given that this would end up damaging Turkey’s own extensive commercial interests in the KRG.
  • Although a large-scale military operation against Kirkuk by the Iraqi government remains unlikely, there is a high risk of localised armed confrontations, especially along the current de facto boundary between the Islamic State and KRG-controlled territory, around 20 kilometres southwest of Kirkuk city.
  • An escalation of violence around Kirkuk would be unlikely to directly affect oil facilities. The Baghdad government would be likely to close the Safra customs point, as well as closing Iraqi airspace to flights headed to the KRG's two main cities, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.

Event

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s independence referendum went ahead as planned on 25 September 2017, despite opposition from the Iraqi government, Iran, Turkey, and the US.Iraqi Kurdish children celebrate with the Kurdish flag in the streets of Kirkuk on 25 September 2017, as Iraqi Kurds vote in a referendum on independence. (Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty)Iraqi Kurdish children celebrate with the Kurdish flag in the streets of Kirkuk on 25 September 2017, as Iraqi Kurds vote in a referendum on independence. (Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty)

According to the provisional results announced by Rudaw, a pro-Barzani media outlet, 93.3% of votes were cast in favour and 6.7% against. Overall attendance reportedly stood at 72.2%. Meanwhile, the KRG’s High Election and Referendum Commission announced that final results would not be published until 28 September and urged caution against premature results being announced by the media. Following the referendum, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi reaffirmed that the results would not be recognised. This came after the Iraqi parliament gave the government a mandate, on 25 September, for immediate military action against KRG forces in all disputed territories.

Flashpoint: Kirkuk

The KRG’s local governorate in Kirkuk declared a curfew on the night following the referendum, with a view to preventing violence between the city’s ethnic communities. A Peshmerga officer was killed by a Shia militia in a shooting incident that took place in Tuz Khurmatu on the day of the vote.

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