>> Around 5 million people living in the Kurdish held areas in Northern Iraq are casting their vote in a controversial referendum on statehood, in a move that's being condemned by the central government in Baghdad. I'm Reuters correspondent Emily Wither in Erbil, the seat of power for the autonomous Kurdish regional government.
This referendum is nonbinding and is going to ask a simple yes or no, do people want to see an independent Kurdistan? And while the answer is almost sure to be yes, it's what happens next that's so unpredictable and is making people nervous. The referendum will be held in areas that are already officially recognized as being within the power of the autonomous regional government here.
But it's also being held in contested areas, areas that the Kurdish forces known as the Peshmerga captured during the battle against Islamic State, and there are fears that this is where the tension will lie. One city in particular, Kirkuk, the oil rich, ethnically diverse city, has already seen outbreaks of violence.
The leader of the KRG, Massoud Barzani, says that this referendum will strengthen their hand in negotiations with Baghdad. Baghdad, however, fear that this could lead to a very messy breakup of the country at a time when they're dealing with an influx of refugees and reconstruction. The West, including the United States, doesn't support this either, they say that they prefer to see united Iraq and they fear that this could distract attention away from the battle against Islamic State.
For many Kurds they've longed for an independent state after decades of oppression and suffering. They were the largest ethnic group to be left stateless after Britain and France, the colonial powers which won World War I, carved up the Ottoman Empire, leaving Kurds displaced across the region. But rather than a moment of celebration, many fear that this referendum will lead to more sectarian tension and violence in a country that's already suffered so much.