Kurdish independence vote 'will go ahead as partnership with Iraq is over'
The president of Iraq's Kurdish region has said the controversial vote on independence will go ahead as planned on Monday despite mounting criticism from within the region and beyond.
Speaking at a press conference in Irbil on Sunday, Masoud Barzani said that while the vote will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence, the region's "partnership" with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is over.
Baghdad, the United States and the United Nations have all voiced strong opposition to the vote set for Monday, warning it could further destabilise the region as Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to battle the Islamic State group.
Earlier on Sunday, Iran closed its airspace to flights taking off from Iraq's Kurdish region following a request from Baghdad.
The Kurdish region's president detailed the abuses Iraq's Kurds have faced by Iraqi forces, including killings at the hands of former leader Saddam Hussein's army that left more than 50,000 Kurds dead.
"Only through independence can we secure a future where we will not have the past atrocities," he said.
Turkey renewed a bill on Saturday allowing the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria if faced with national security threats, a move seen as a final warning to Iraqi Kurds.
Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard launched a military exercise on Sunday in its north-western Kurdish region, in a sign of Tehran's concerns over the vote.
At the Irbil press conference, Mr Barzani said he was unaware that Iran had closed its airspace, but that it was Iran's "own decision". The leader also confirmed that there had been shelling along Iran's border with the Kurdish region.
Mr Barzani also addressed concerns that Turkey would shut its border with the Kurdish region following the vote, saying he hoped Turkey would leave the crossing open.
"There will be no benefit for either side," he said.
Despite fears in disputed territories - Iraqi territory claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad - Mr Barzani said he did not expect violence to follow the vote, explaining that Iraq's military and the Kurdish fighters known as the peshmerga have "good coordination in the war against terror".
The peshmerga forces have been instructed not to respond to "provocations" in Kirkuk, Mr Barzani added.