What you need to know about the Kurdish referendum

Many Kurds see this as their chance to get legitimacy.

What is it?

Why now?

Why so much opposition?

What's next?

No one knows for sure what will happen after the referendum, but it’s certain that relations between Erbil and Baghdad will change forever. Opinion polls in Kurdistan are heavily tipped in favor of independence and, although voting stations only opened a short while ago, it’s expected to be a landslide for separation. Because the referendum is technically a gauge of public opinion and has no legal mandate, there will be no trigger for obliging Erbil to declare independence. But many are worried that a vote in favor of freedom will unleash unstoppable momentum, inflaming passions and leading to revolt and bloodshed. Tehran is clearly worried. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard launched a military exercise on Sunday in its northwestern Kurdish region. Iran also closed its airspace on Sunday to flights taking off from Iraq’s Kurdish region following a request from Baghdad as punishment for the referendum. Turkey is holding military drills near its own border with Iraq too, yet Turkey engages in massive amounts of trade with Kurdistan and would be loathe to upset that financial relationship.

Polls close at 6 p.m. local time and the final result of the referendum is expected within 72 hours.