Iranian Kurds hold Kurdish flags as they take part in a gathering to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in the town of Bahirka, north of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 21, 2017.
The controversial referendum on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan is set for September 25. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED        (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Who are the Kurds?
01:40 - Source: CNN
Irbil, Iraq CNN  — 

Iraqi Kurds have voted in favor of declaring independence from Iraq in a controversial referendum, Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani announced Tuesday.

The official results have not yet been released by the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, the body supervising the vote.

But the Kurdish Minister of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa, told CNN that preliminary results show a majority of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence.

“Honored people of Kurdistan, by your resistance, you didn’t allow your will to be broken. And now, after your ‘yes’ vote, which was a yes to independence and no to Anfal and chemical attacks, a new phase is ahead of us,” Barzani said in a televised speech, referring to the massacre of thousands of Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1988.

“Respect the will of the people of Kurdistan. Let’s engage in a serious dialogue and become good neighbors,” Barzani added.

The advisory referendum took place on Monday despite vehement opposition from Iraq’s government in Baghdad, which has described it as unconstitutional. On Monday the Iraqi parliament authorized use of force against Kurdistan.

Barzani’s KRG, however, says the referendum will give it a mandate for talks to secede from Iraq, but Baghdad has already ruled out such talks.

Nearly all neighboring regional powers objected to the referendum, warning that independence could further destabilize the region.

Iran and Turkey both opposed the vote over fears it could galvanize Kurdish independence movements in their countries. Iran closed its air space to northern Iraq on Sunday, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to cut off oil exports from the region on Monday.

The United States, United Kingdom and the United Nations also warned the KRG against holding the referendum, citing fears that it could detract from the campaign against ISIS.

Journalist Butan Amedi contributed to this report.