"A poll on independence was organised throughout Kurdistan," said Shamal Huaizi of the Referendum Movement for Iraqi Kurdistan, promising to announce the results in a week.

  

Huaizi said his association had printed two million forms which were distributed to voters outside polling stations asking: "Do you want an independent Kurdistan?"

  

He argued that Iraqi Kurds had a legal basis to break away as Britain had forcibly incorporated the then-Kurdish majority Mosul region into Iraq following its capture from Turkey in World War I.

 

Unacceptable

  

"Kurdistan was forcefully annexed by Iraq in 1924 and, following the collapse of the Iraqi state, the Kurdish people have the right to be consulted about independence, as was the case following the fall of the Soviet Union," he said.

  

Iraq's mainstream Kurdish parties have carefully avoided any talk of independence in the foreseeable future, knowing that it would be unacceptable to neighbouring Iran, Syria and Turkey, which all have large Kurdish minorities of their own.

  

But even their calls for an expanded autonomous region, incorporating the northern oil centre of Kirkuk and parts of two other provinces as well as the existing three, have drawn strong opposition from Ankara.