ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Foreign observers who traveled to the Kurdistan Region to monitor the historic referendum on independence on Tuesday asserted the vote was free, open and transparent.
“In the areas we observed, there were sufficient polling stations, and things were orderly,” said Vesna Pusic, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs for Croatia, at a post-referendum press conference held in Erbil. “There was no coercion – either preventing or forcing people to vote.”
On Monday, people of the Kurdistan Region and the disputed territories headed to the polls to vote on whether to remain a part of Iraq or form a new independent state. Pusic and some 140 foreign officials were invited as observers.
“I saw women, men, Muslims, Christians, Yezidis (Ezidis), internally displaced persons (IDPs), and Peshmerga voting,” she noted.
Former Foreign Minister of France Bernard Kouchner joined Pusic by sharing his enthusiasm for the region.
“Yesterday was a great day for the people of Kurdistan. The result is not surprising to anyone who has been following the Kurds’ decades-long struggle,” he declared.
For the observers, the post-referendum period marks the beginning of serious negotiations with Iraq.
“This is not an additional wish for war or trouble. It’s the start of a dialogue with the people’s mandate supporting them [The Kurdistan Regional Government],” Kouchner added. “This was an exercise in democracy in the heart of the Middle East, not a declaration of war.”
Austrian Member of the European Parliament Franz Obermayr took the opportunity to congratulate the Kurdistan Region’s Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHERC) on organizing the vote, labeling it a “great success.”
“People were free and able to vote peacefully.”
The highly-regarded observers also offered praise to the Peshmerga and the Kurdish leadership, affirming they believe Western governments will eventually support the move.
“Kurds and Peshmerga forces were the most efficient fighters against the Islamic State (IS). We are grateful for that, and we respect your vote and express your desire of how you want to live,” Pusic said. “The Kurds of Iraq have also shown they’re patient, skillful, and very willing and smart negotiators.”
The Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister, Nerchivan Barzani, reiterated the leadership’s position on Monday that a ‘Yes’ vote win would not mean independence will be declared immediately after the referendum.
"We will use it to engage in serious negotiations with Baghdad," he said.
For Kouchner and Obermayr, support from the Western-bloc will inevitably come.
“I’m sure all these governments will change their positions once they consider the reality on the ground: The Kurdish people have voted, and now they have to negotiate.”
“We will work to ensure the protection of the Kurdistan Region through negotiations,” Obermayr stated. “We hope for a future without war.”