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For Voters in Northern Iraq, Referendum on Independence


Along with Sunday's official election to choose members of a new National Assembly in Iraq, people in the Kurdish region of the country also made their opinions known on the issue of Kurdish independence.

At polling stations in the four provinces that make up Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, voters were also being given the opportunity to say whether this area should remain part of Iraq or become a separate country.

The unofficial referendum was conducted by an independent group called the High Council for the Referendum in Kurdistan. Council officials say that when the new Iraqi National Assembly convenes later this year, its representatives from the Kurdistan region should go to Baghdad armed with the peoples' views on this contentious issue.

A fully independent Kurdistan has been the dream of many in this area for decades, even centuries. But that aspiration has been denied by a succession of rulers from the Ottomans to the Iraqi monarchy set up after World War One and then the Baathists of Saddam Hussein. Today, in the wake of the 2003 Iraq war, the Kurdistan region has enjoyed a strong measure of autonomy within Iraq, but for many Iraqi Kurds the goal has always remained independence.

Those who support the referendum say that at the very least, a strong showing for Kurdistan's independence can serve as leverage to help ensure that when the new Iraqi constitution is written later this year, Kurdish rights and interests are protected.

But critics of the referendum say that it comes at the wrong time, at a moment when building a new Iraq will depend on people from every group in the country coming together for a common future.