Iraqi Kurds cast ballots on Monday in their autonomous region and in a wide sweep of captured territories on whether to seek independence from Baghdad, a historic vote that has also raised tensions and fears of instability.
The referendum is non-binding and will not immediately bring independence, but it would mark a definitive stance by the Kurds to break away, and Kurdish leaders say they will use a "yes" vote to press for negotiations with Iraq's central government to win statehood.
From Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened military intervention in Iraq in response to the vote, stressing that Kurdish independence was unacceptable to his country and that this was a "matter of survival."
The Iraqi Kurdish push for independence has been made even more combustible because Kurdish forces captured extensive territories in fighting with the Islamic State group in the past year. Those territories run from northwest Iraq across the country to the Iranian border on the east — including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Baghdad claims those territories, but the Kurds say they are part of their zone and residents there are participating in Monday's vote.
More than 3 million people are expected to vote across the three provinces that officially make up the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region and in the disputed territories, according to the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, the body overseeing the vote.
Lines began forming early in the day at polling stations across Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Tahsin Karim was one of the first people to vote in his Irbil neighborhood.
"Today we came here to vote in the referendum for the independence of Kurdistan," he said. "We hope that we can achieve independence."