By Hussein al-Amir
Arab residents of the town of Mandali in Iraq’s east-central Diyala province staged demonstrations on Sunday to protest the town council’s decision to include it in a planned poll on Kurdish regional independence.
On Aug. 17, Mandali’s local council voted to include the town -- whose population includes both Arabs and Kurds -- in the controversial Sept. 25 referendum.
Hundreds of the town’s Sunni Arab residents protested the council’s decision on Sunday, converging on Mandali’s local government headquarters and vowing to take “escalatory steps” if the move was not reversed.
“Those who want to include Mandali in the referendum seek to embroil the town in the politics of the region, which will only lead to further chaos and instability,” Nazem al-Hayali, an Arab resident of the town who took part in the protest, told Anadolu Agency.
“The town’s Arab dignitaries, along with most residents, have repeatedly voiced their refusal to participate in the poll,” he added, noting that Mandali had witnessed a similar protest last week.
“Local Kurdish parties should consider the position of their Arab counterparts; otherwise, we will have to resort to additional measures,” al-Hayali said without elaborating.
Some protestors tore down Kurdish regional flags that had been hoisted in the town, raising the Iraqi national flag in its place.
Following the arrival of demonstrators from outside the town, security forces -- from both the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdish region -- were deployed in the area.
In an effort to defuse the situation, Diyala Governor Muthanna al-Tamimi showed up in the town, where he met with both protest leaders and local Kurdish representatives.
It remains unclear whether the two sides reached any agreements or understandings.
Slated for Sept. 25, the non-binding referendum will see residents of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region vote on whether or not to declare independence from Baghdad.
The Iraqi government, however, rejects the planned poll, saying it will adversely affect the ongoing fight against the Daesh terrorist group, which still maintains a significant presence in Iraq.
Baghdad also believes that holding the poll would violate Iraq’s national charter.
Turkey, too, rejects the planned referendum, saying the region’s stability depends on Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity.
Washington has likewise voiced concern that the poll could serve as a “distraction” from other pressing regional issues, especially the fight against terrorism and the stabilization of post-Daesh Iraq.