Coalition spokesman: Kurdish referendum caused loss of focus fighting ISIS

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The Kurdish referendum for independence has decreased focus on fighting ISIS militants in Iraq, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting the militant group said.

“The focus which used to be like a laser beam on ISIS is now not 100 percent there, so there has been an effect on the overall mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq as a result of the referendum,” said coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon.

Dillon added that there had been no impact on current military operations out of Erbil’s airport.

Iraq’s Transport Ministry ordered international airlines to halt service to Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, and Sulaimaniyah, its second city, beginning Friday evening.

Kurdish forces have also availed themselves of the opportunity the war offered to gain or solidify control over northern territory claimed by both them and Baghdad.

The issue of borders and territorial control would be a major source of contention if Iraqi Kurdistan decided to move forward with independence.

Turkey, Iran and Syria -- neighboring countries that also have substantial Kurdish populations -- have like Baghdad come out against Kurdish independence, adding a regional dimension to the dispute.

The fallout from the vote has so far been largely political, but Kurdish forces have previously clashed with federal pro-government paramilitaries, and with tensions high, there is a significant risk of violence.

(With agencies)