Iraq Kurd vote takes focus away from anti-IS war: coalition

Iraqi Kurds celebrate the results of the independence referendum in the northern city of Arbil, on September 27, 2017 (AFP Photo/SAFIN HAMED)

Washington (AFP) - The Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum has taken focus away from the war against the Islamic State group, the spokesman for the US-led coalition against the jihadists said on Thursday.

Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly chose independence in a vote on Monday that was non-binding but which has nonetheless sent tensions in the country and the region soaring.

"There has been an effect on the overall mission to defeat (IS) in Iraq as a result of the referendum," Colonel Ryan Dillon told journalists.

"The focus, which used to be like a laser beam on (IS), is now not 100 percent there," Dillon said.

There is "a lot of posturing and a lot of things that have been said about what, you know, could or may happen," but current military operations have not been affected, he said.

Following the referendum, Baghdad demanded control of Kurdistan's airports and border crossings and said it will impose a flight ban on the region starting Friday.

"Right now, there's absolutely no effect on current military operations out of Arbil using the airport," Dillon said, referring to the Kurdish regional capital's airport.

Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces have both fought to push IS back since the jihadists overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014.

Kurdish forces have also availed themselves of the opportunity the war offered to gain or solidify control over northern territory claimed by both them and Baghdad.

The issue of borders and territorial control would be a major source of contention if Iraqi Kurdistan decided to move forward with independence.

Turkey, Iran and Syria -- neighboring countries that also have substantial Kurdish populations -- have like Baghdad come out against Kurdish independence, adding a regional dimension to the dispute.

The fallout from the vote has so far been largely political, but Kurdish forces have previously clashed with federal pro-government paramilitaries, and with tensions high, there is a significant risk of violence.