WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed in a statement today that the U.S. government “does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unilateral referendum held on Monday.”
“The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” Tillerson said.
With more than 3 million valid ballots cast Monday, 92.73 percent of Kurds responded affirmatively to one question: Do you want the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state?
“We remain concerned about the potential negative consequences of this unilateral step,” Tillerson continued. “Prior to the vote, we worked with both the KRG and the central government in Baghdad to pursue a more productive framework and to promote stability and prosperity for the people of the Kurdistan region. These aspirations, ultimately, cannot be advanced through unilateral measures such as this referendum.”
“We urge calm and an end to vocal recriminations and threats of reciprocal actions. We urge Iraqi Kurdish authorities to respect the constitutionally-mandated role of the central government and we call upon the central government to reject threats or even allusion to possible use of force. The United States asks all parties, including Iraq’s neighbors, to reject unilateral actions and the use of force.”
Iraq has imposed a blockade on air travel after the Kurdish government missed today’s deadline on Baghdad’s demand that Kurds hand over control of their international airports in Erbil and Sulaimani.
“The central government assuming control of land and air borders in the Kurdistan Region is not to starve, prevent funds, or impose a blockade as claimed by some officials of the Kurdistan Region,” said a statement from the Iraqi government today.
The U.S. said before the referendum that the Trump administration “strongly” opposed the vote, arguing that Kurds would be harming the fight against the Islamic State by making such a move toward independence.
“The fight against ISIS/Daesh is not over, and extremist groups are seeking to exploit instability and discord,” Tillerson said today. “We urge our Iraqi partners to remain focused on defeating ISIS/Daesh.”
“We encourage all sides to engage constructively in a dialogue to improve the future of all Iraqis,” he added.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said this week that “while there’s been much coverage of this event, the coalition and the ISF have stayed focused on operations to defeat ISIS — coalition operations out of Erbil, specifically the use of the airport there, have not been affected.”
“What I’ll say now is that there are a lot of posturing and a lot of things that have been said about what, you know, could or may happen. And as military planners, we know that we are always trying to stay a couple steps ahead of our boss. So, what I will say is that the focus, which used to be like a laser beam on ISIS, is now not 100 percent there,” he said. “So, there has been an effect on overall mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq as a result of the referendum.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a multiethnic and multisectarian force led by Kurds, has routed ISIS from about 75 percent of the Islamic State’s capital, Raqqa, including 50 city blocks this past week alone. The Peshmerga participated in the campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIS up until the city limits, at which point only the Iraqi government forces entered per agreement.