Kurdish independence referendum is illegitimate, Tillerson declares
BAGHDAD — The United States on Friday declared illegitimate Monday’s Kurdish referendum on independence, as the Iraqi government imposed a ban on international flights to airports operated by the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi troops prepared to seize the semiautonomous region’s border controls.
“The United States does not recognize the ... unilateral referendum,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Washington’s first substantive statement on the vote, in which nearly 93 percent of voters in the Kurdistan region approved declaring an autonomous state in northern Iraq.
“The vote and the results lack legitimacy,” Tillerson said, “and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.”
He urged both sides to reject the use of force and engage in dialogue, and to remain focused on the fight against the Islamic State, which he said was “not over.”
The flight ban was the first major step Baghdad has taken to express its outrage over the referendum. It has also threatened to close land borders between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq and to send troops into the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Iraqi soldiers are massing on the Iranian and Turkish borders with the Kurdish region, preparing to take control of the crossings from Kurdish authorities, according to a senior Iraqi official.
Turkey and Iran, which have their own restive Kurdish populations, also opposed the referendum.
The Iraqi military also temporarily closed a major road linking the Arab city of Mosul to the Kurdish city of Dahuk on Friday.
Kurdish officials have called the measures illegal and have pleaded for international support. But Tillerson’s sharp statement indicated that the United States, despite its alliance with the Kurds, would not offer any.