Pro independence supporters wrapped in Kurdish flags chant at a referendum rally in Irbil, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.(AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
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Iraqi Kurds were preparing to vote in a referendum set for Monday on independence for their autonomous northern region, despite warnings within the country and from its neighbors Iran and Turkey.The federal government in Baghdad has called the referendum unconstitutional.In regional capital Irbil, the political heartland of President Massud Barzani who initiated the referendum, Kurdish flags were flying everywhere.Some 5.5 million Kurds are expected to vote in the three provinces that have since 2003 formed the autonomous region of Kurdistan but also in territories disputed with Baghdad such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.In Sulaymaniyah, the PUK-controlled second city of the autonomous region, enthusiasm for the vote is muted.Home to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, Kirkuk is disputed between the federal government in Baghdad and the country's Kurds.The Kurds say it is historically theirs, arguing that the late dictator Saddam Hussein chased them out and replaced them with Arabs.
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