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Kurds Vote on Statehood and Neighbors Say No Way: QuickTake Q&A

A peshmerga fighter plants a Kurdish flag near of Kirkuk, northern Iraq.
Photographer: Scott Peterson/Getty Images
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Kurdish nationalist movements have dreamed of an independent state ever since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire early last century and the birth of the modern Middle East. Now, Iraq’s Kurds are taking steps toward that elusive goal. Preliminary results suggest they voted for independence in a referendum Monday. Leaders of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region say a “yes” verdict will mark the beginning of a separation process rather than an abrupt splintering from the rest of the country. Iraq’s national government, as well as the country’s neighbors -- many with their own restive Kurdish minorities -- opposed the vote and have threatened to undermine moves toward secession.

More than 93 percent of voters approved the push for independence from Iraq, with about 282,000 votes counted, the Kurdish Rudaw news agency said Tuesday. Massive pro-independence rallies had suggested it wouldn’t be close. The referendum posed one question: “Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?” More than 98 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in a 2005 referendum that did not result in statehood. Kurdish President Massoud Barzani has said this year’s vote is different because it was organized by the regional government whereas the previous one was arranged by activists without official approval.