Voting Starts in Kurdistan's Independence Referendum
Voting started on Monday (September 25) in an independence referendum organized by the Kurdish Region in northern Iraq, despite regional and international fears that it would stoke instability and violence across the Middle East.
Polling stations opened their doors at 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) and should close at 6:00 p.m. The final results should be announced within 72 hours.
The vote, expected to deliver a comfortable "yes" for independence, is not binding and is meant to give Massoud Barzani's KRG a mandate to negotiate secession of the oil producing region with Baghdad and the neighbouring states.
Around 1,140,000 eligible voters are expected to cast their ballots in Erbil governorate where over 2,494 polling stations will open, signaling a likely high voter turnout in the capital of Kurdistan Region.
Up to 2,700 polling stations opened on Monday (September 25) for eligible voters in the governorate of Sulaimani.
An estimated five million people are expected to cast their Yes/No votes on Monday in parts of the Kurdistan Region.
Kirkuk, populated by Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Christians and other minorities, is one of 15 ethnically mixed areas in northern Iraq that will participate in the referendum.
Iraq's powerful neighbors, Iran and Turkey, strongly oppose the vote as they fear it could fuel separatism among their own Kurds.
The United States and other Western powers have urged authorities in the semi-autonomous Iraqi region to cancel Monday's (September 25) vote. They say the move by the oil-producing area distracts from the fight against Islamic State.