The city council of Mandali district, one of the disputed regions – between Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – that is under the Diyala province, withdrew the decision of Diyala province to participate in the Sept. 25 referendum yesterday. Following its withdrawal, Kurdish authorities stated that they will appeal the decision since it was taken as a result of a "raid by armored men."
KRG's decision to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25 has led to previously feared protests in the region, as some Arab and Turkmen protesters rallied and lowered the KRG flag in Diyala province's Mandali district near the Iranian border on Sunday.
In addition to the withdrawal decision, the city's mayor, Hoshiyar Ismail, was dismissed from his position.
Iraqi Turkmen Front Leader Ershad Salihi said on Sept. 10 that Arab and Turkmen protestors in Mandali protested the referendum decision, chanting: "Say no to the referendum." He said that Turkmens and Arabs with Iraq's flag held a rally for building the district council. The Turkmen leader said protestors lowered the KRG flag in the building and ripped up the referendum ballots. He added that Arabs in Mandali as well as Turkmens in the region will boycott the referendum.
The Iraqi Kurdistan-based Rudaw news portal claimed that a group affiliated with the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias have engaged in the protest, saying that Hashd al-Shaabi militias threatened indigenous people not to participate in the referendum. Rudaw reported that the protests are ongoing, adding that the Diyala governor and the police commissioner are trying to soothe the tension.
Speaking to the Turkish media, Salihi also said the KRG on Aug. 17 decided to include Mandali in the referendum decision despite Turkmens and Arabs refusing to participate. He said KRG President Masoud Barzani perceives Kirkuk, Tezhurmati, Tal Afar, Diyala and a part of Mosul as Kurdish regions. "According to Barzani, half of Iraq is the Kurdish region. No one will accept this," Salihi said.
In late August, in a session boycotted by Turkmen and Arab deputies, the Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC) also voted in favor of joining the planned independence referendum, which was boycotted by the Turkmen and Arab council members.
Turkmen council member Ali Mehdi had told Anadolu Agency that 24 members attended the session, and the members who did not attend would apply to Iraq's Supreme Court regarding the voting.
There are 26 Kurdish members in the KPC, along with nine Turkmen and six Arab members.
According to article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, Kirkuk is among the disputed areas in the country, a city that is populated by Kurds, Arabs and Iraqi Turkmens.
After the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurds were given leverage over the city, in a move that has been opposed by local Arab and Turkmen populations.
While the administrative statuses of these areas were to be determined through referendums by the year 2007, these referendums have not yet been held due to political turmoil in the country.
Ankara has been warning the KRG to not hold the independence referendum, claiming it will further destabilize the already crisis-stricken region. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Aug. 23 paid a visit to Iraq and the KRG in order to voice Turkey's concerns. "An independence referendum would only worsen the situation in the country, which is already experiencing a lot of problems. God forbid, it could even lead the country to civil war," he said. Upon Barzani's declaration to hold the referendum, presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in June that Turkey hopes the KRG would revoke the "erroneous" move, adding that the referendum "would be an attempt against Iraq's territorial integrity"
The Arab League has also opposed the referendum decision, saying that the problems between Irbil and Baghdad should be solved through dialogue. During his visit to Irbil on Sept.10, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit urged the KRG to postpone the referendum. However, after the meeting, Barzani's office issued a statement ruling out the possibility of canceling or postponing the vote.
Barzani announced the decision to hold a referendum on June 7 on his official Twitter account. In addition, a tweet from Hamin Hawrami, a senior presidential adviser, said: "Big news. Kurdistan referendum for independence is on Sept. 25, 2017."