AA:US urges 'unified Iraq' as country's Kurds vote

Four Kurdish personnel killed in IED blast in Kirkuk

An Iraqi lawmaker says the country's parliament has approved several tough measures in response to the Iraqi Kurds' contentious vote on support for independence from Baghdad.

Cavusoglu's remarks came amid an ongoing non-binding independence referendum in the region, which will see Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)-held areas, including territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, vote on seceding from Iraq. More than an hour before polls closed, the Kurdish Rudaw TV station said that at least 73 percent of eligible voters had taken part in the poll.

The disputed areas are the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, as well as parts of Nineveh, Diyala and Salaheddin provinces.

Initial results are expected to be announced 24 hours after the vote.

The referendum has been condemned by the USA, Iran, Turkey and a number of other countries, as well as the countries of the Arab League.

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Asked about the risks of armed conflict, Abadi's spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told AFP: "If there are clashes in these zones, it will be the job of federal forces to apply the law".

The Turkish leader hinted at barring Iraqi Kurds from exporting gas via Turkey, saying "We own the valve".

"In particular, USA citizens should avoid travel into and within territories disputed between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Government of Iraq", it reiterated with reference to areas beyond the administrative borders of the Kurdish region that are controlled by the Kurdish forces Peshmerga.

He again urged Iraqi Kurdish authorities to take a step back and appeared to threaten a possible cross-border operation. Tehran has also increased pressure, announcing on Sunday it had blocked all flights to and from the region at Baghdad's request.

Iran's foreign ministry has insisted that its border with Iraqi-Kurdistan remains open, reversing an earlier claim that stated the crossing has been closed. Baghdad, the United States and the United Nations have all voiced strong opposition to the vote, warning it could further destabilize the region as Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to battle the Islamic State group.

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