Iraq military steps up bid to isolate Kurdish region

Iran closed its borders and stopped flights to Iraqi Kurdistan airports following a Kurdish referendum of independence from Iraq on Monday.

Official results showed 92.73 per cent of voters backed statehood in Monday's non-binding referendum, which Iraq's central government has rejected as illegal.

Turkey and Iran, which have Kurdish minorities and are fiercely opposed to Iraqi Kurds gaining independence, have also increased the pressure on the KRG.

"A joint military exercise between Iran's armed forces and units from the Iraqi army will be held in the coming days along the shared border", Iranian armed forces spokesman Masoud Jazayeri told reporters in Tehran.

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Kurdish officials at the border crossing between their region and Turkey said Saturday that the Iraqi forces were in position on the Turkish side, the Associated Press reported.

Iraq and Turkey have also held joint military drills.

"Prior to the vote, we worked with both the KRG and the central government in Baghdad to pursue a more productive framework and to promote stability and prosperity for the people ‎of the Kurdistan region".

Gas oil is one of Iran's main exports to the autonomous Kurdistan region, which imported 110 million litres of it from Iran a year ago, state broadcaster IRIB said quoting figures from the National Oil Company.

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The United States does not recognize the independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan U.S.

Military tensions are running high; after the vote, the Iraqi parliament asked Abadi to send troops to Kirkuk, a disputed oil-rich city under KRG control that is only 50% Kurdish.

"All worldwide flights without exception to and from Arbil will stop from 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Friday following a decision by the Iraqi cabinet and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi", Talar Faiq Salih told AFP on Thursday.

The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority told global flight operators that all flights to and from Erbil and Sulaimaniya airports in Iraqi Kurdistan would be suspended from 6 p.m. Friday (11 a.m. ET).

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The referendum has stirred fears of a new regional conflict. It also called for the deployment of forces to areas that had been under Iraqi government control before Islamic State (IS) forces captured Mosul in June 2014.

  • Ryan Wade