KALAK, Iraq – “For the sake of the sacrifices and blood of the martyrs, let’s all say yes for Kurdistan independence,” reads a large billboard in the center of Kalak, a small town in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. “Independence is not given, it’s taken!” reads another banner hanging below a cluster of red, green, yellow and white Kurdish flags.
Iraq’s Kurds are set to vote Monday in a referendum on support for independence that has stirred fears of instability across the region as the war against the Islamic State group winds down. The Kurds are likely to approve the referendum, but the non-binding vote is not expected to result in any formal declaration of independence.
The United Sates and the United Nations have condemned the referendum. Turkey, which is battling its own Kurdish insurgency, has threatened to use military force to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, and Baghdad has warned it will respond militarily to any violence resulting from the vote.
Initial results from the poll are expected on Tuesday, with the official results announced later in the week.
Denied independence when colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I, the Kurds form a sizable minority in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. They have long been at odds with the Baghdad government over the sharing of oil revenues and the fate of disputed territories like the city of Kirkuk, which are expected to take part in the vote.
“There are pressures on us to postpone, to engage in dialogue with Baghdad, but we will not go back to a failed experiment,” Masoud Barzani, the…