Iraqi Kurds celebrate on the streets after casting vote for independence

There were celebrations across northern Iraq on Monday as people voted on Kurdish independence – paving the way for the creation of a new country, and the splintering of Iraq.

Monday’s vote was strongly opposed by the U.S., which had lobbied hard against it. U.S. officials said now was a time to focus on the battle against ISIS, in which the Kurds have played a major role.

But Kurdish Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir said the time was right.

“This is a moment when the people of Kurdistan go to the ballot boxes to exercise their very basic right,” he said, “the right to self-determination in order to determine their own future.”

WHAT’S NEXT AFTER IRAQI KURDS VOTE ON INDEPENDENCE

The Kurdish president also called on the U.S. to support the move.

A man waves the Kurdish flag in the streets of Irbil after polling stations closed on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. The Kurds of Iraq were voting in a referendum on support for independence that has stirred fears of instability across the region, as the war against the Islamic State group winds down. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

A man waves the Kurdish flag in the streets of Irbil after polling stations closed on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. The Kurds of Iraq were voting in a referendum on support for independence.  (AP)

“I ask the American people to support us, because all we’ve done is democratically and peacefully asked for our rights and this requires the support of the American nation,” President Masoud Barzani told Fox News.

The vote — likely to be a resounding "yes" when official results are revealed later this week — is not binding and will not immediately bring independence to the autonomous region.

But the vote comes with great danger. Already neighboring countries are threatening a response.

Turkey and Iran have objected strongly, and have been massing their militaries on their borders in response, while the Iraqi central government has also threatened to send in troops.

People wait in line at a polling station at a primary school to vote in the Kurdish referendum on independence, in the disputed city of Kirkuk, Monday Sept. 25, 2017. Millions are expected to vote on Monday in Iraq's Kurdish-run provinces and disputed territories as Iraqi Kurds cast ballots in support for independence from Baghdad in a historic but non-binding vote. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

People wait in line at a polling station at a primary school to vote in the Kurdish referendum on independence, in the disputed city of Kirkuk, Monday Sept. 25, 2017. Millions are expected to vote on Monday in Iraq's Kurdish-run provinces and disputed territories as Iraqi Kurds cast ballots in support for independence from Baghdad in a historic but non-binding vote. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)  (AP)

IRAQ’S KURDS TO VOTE ON INDEPENDENCE AMID FEARS OF UNREST

"This is a division of Iraq," said journalist Raad Mohammad. Another Baghdad resident, Ali al-Rubayah, described the vote as a "black day in the history of the Kurds."

One of the flash points is expected to be in Kirkuk, the oil-rich region which Kurdish fighters took over in 2014 when the Iraqi army fled in the face of ISIS.

But for Kurds, today’s vote is about moving on from decades of oppression by the central government.

A man with 'yes' shaved into his hair chants through a speaker in the streets of Irbil after polling stations closed on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. The Kurds of Iraq were voting in a referendum on support for independence that has stirred fears of instability across the region, as the war against the Islamic State group winds down. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

A man with 'yes' shaved into his hair chants through a speaker in the streets of Irbil after polling stations closed on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. The Kurds of Iraq were voting in a referendum on support for independence that has stirred fears of instability across the region, as the war against the Islamic State group winds down. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)  (AP)

 “Kurdistan has been a land of tolerance…Kurdistan has been an island of security and stability and has been open,” the foreign minister said. “Kurdistan has been open for people who have fled tyranny and oppression for other parts of Iraq who have come here.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.