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Iraqi Kurdistan's Independence Vote: Peshmerga in a 'State of Combat Readiness'

© AFP 2023 / AHMAD AL-RUBAYEA flag of the autonomous Kurdistan region flies as Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take position to monitor the area from their front line post in Bashiqa, a town 13 kilometres north-east of Mosul (File)
A flag of the autonomous Kurdistan region flies as Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take position to monitor the area from their front line post in Bashiqa, a town 13 kilometres north-east of Mosul (File) - Sputnik International
The commander of Peshmerga, the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, has expressed his view on the referendum on independence from Iraq that is held in the autonomous region on Monday, saying that Kurdish troops are ready to protect the outcomes of the vote.

GWEIR (Iraqi Kurdistan) (Sputnik) – The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are ready to repel any attack on Iraqi Kurdistan, the forces’ commander Sirwan Barzani told Sputnik.

"In my opinion, without doubt, Peshmerga is in the state of combat readiness. We were able to fight the Iraqi army comprising many millions of people, the strongest army in the region at the time, only armed with Kalashnikov rifles. Of course, we are ready to repel [an attack] by whomever," he said.

Kurdish people attend a rally to show their support for the upcoming September 25th independence referendum in Duhuk, Iraq September 16, 2017 - Sputnik International
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The situation over the referendum on independence that is taking place in Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday has been tense with Iran and Turkey opposing the vote. Iran pledged to shut down all the border crossings with Iraqi Kurdistan after the independence vote, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to impose sanctions against the region in the event the independence referendum takes place.

However, Barzani said he didn't believe Iraqi Kurdistan would be attacked by external forces.

"Perhaps this [statements about the blockade] is connected with elections, with domestic politics in these countries, so they resort to such threats… Now the whole world sees that the Kurds and Peshmerga are not the same as 30 years ago. Therefore, it is not so easy to come and set up a blockade or to fight with us," Barzani said.

Commenting on the vote, Barzani praised Russia's stance on the region's decision to hold an independence referendum from Baghdad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim Jaafari last week and expressed hope that the row over the Kurdish independence vote in Iraq would be resolved through dialogue, national accord, and compromise.

"We are grateful for Russia's role, it was the only not to speak out with threats, but rather it declared respect for any opinion of the people. This is right, this is real democracy. It's a noble role, and the whole Kurdish people, which has found itself under such conditions, appreciates this," he stressed.

Moreover, Iraqi Kurdistan believes that it would be able to equip its forces with Russian weapons should it become independent, according to the Peshmerga commander.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani speaks at a press conference during the visit of the British Foriegn Minister to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, on March 17, 2016 - Sputnik International
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“The new government, ministers and military experts will be the ones to determine it, but most likely this will be Russian arms because there is experience and practice in using it,” Barzani said when asked who would become the main arms supplier of Iraqi Kurdistan if it were to become independent.

Iraqi Kurdistan is a region with a predominantly Kurdish population. The Kurds, making up about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, have been seeking self-governance for decades. In 2005, Iraq’s Constitution recognized Kurdistan as an autonomous region run by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The referendum was announced by Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani in June.

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