ISTANBUL – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Iraqi Kurdish authorities would pay the price for an independence referendum which was widely opposed by foreign powers including Iran and the United States.
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In a televised speech on Saturday, President Erdogan said that Ankara had been saddened to see some Iraqi Kurds celebrating the independence referendum with Israeli flags. “This shows one thing, that this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with (Israel’s intelligence agency) Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together,” Erdogan said.
International pressure mounted on Iraqi Kurdistan Saturday after its controversial independence “yes” vote, with neighbouring Iran announcing joint border drills with Iraq and banning fuel trade with the autonomous region.
“They are not forming an independent state, they are opening a wound in the region to twist the knife in,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum.
“The game, played in Northern Syria, is a siege project, aimed at completely isolating Turkey from the Middle East. It is clear that the referendum in Northern Iraq is also part of the same project. We have never assumed an attitude against any group neither in Syria nor Iraq that does not directly attack us. On the contrary, we have offered all the help we could.”
“We, as Turkey, have given the biggest support to the IKRG since the first intervention in the country. We opened our borders to hundreds of thousands of them so that they could save their lives. When all their resources were cut, we shared our own means with them.”
Noting that all Turkey expected in return was for them to respect Turkey’s sensitivities, and not to take steps in spite of Turkey, President Erdoğan said: “The administration in Northern Iraq, which we have been giving all kinds of support for a long time, has taken a step in spite of our country and will pay for that.”
“A wound to be constantly bled is being opened”
“We cannot accept a referendum held in a climate that is created by burning down civil and land registry offices, forcing those, who did not obey them, to migrate through oppression, violence and illegal ways,” President Erdoğan said.
“An independent state is not being established in Northern Iraq. On the contrary, a wound to be constantly bled is being opened,” President Erdoğan said, calling on the IKRG to see this fact and wake up from their dream.
Kurd’s vote and sanctions
On Wednesday, Kurdish officials said 2.8 million people living in the three provinces that form the Kurdistan Region, as well as “areas of Kurdistan outside the region’s administration”, had voted in favour of independence.
Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. In Iraq, where they make up an estimated 15-20% of the population of 37 million, Kurds faced decades of repression before acquiring autonomy in 1991.
Following the controversial referendum, Iraq’s central government suspended international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region.
A day after a cut in foreign air links with the region, Iran’s state broadcaster said all transport companies and drivers have been ordered to stop carrying fuel products between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan “until further notice”.
Fearing like Iran that it would inflame the separatist aspirations of its own Kurdish population, Ankara has threatened measures including blocking lifeline oil exports from the region via Turkey.
Diesel is one of Iran’s main exports to the Kurdish region, mainly for power plants and vehicles, while the Kurds almost exclusively rely on crude and fuel oil exports to raise revenues for their oil-rich region.
Tehran has also accepted a request by Baghdad for an Iraqi army presence at frontier crossings.
After the ban on international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan was enforced on Friday, the Kurdish region in the north is dependent on its border posts for trade and contact with the outside world that bypasses the rest of Iraq.
However, after Erdogan said that Iraqi Kurds would go hungry if Ankara halted the cross-border flow of trucks and oil, it has said that any measures it took would not target civilians and instead focus on those who organised the referendum.
Iraq’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it plans to take control of the borders of the autonomous Kurdistan region in coordination with Iran and Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Bin Yildirim, speaking on Saturday, did not refer specifically to those plans, but said Ankara would no longer deal with Kurdish authorities in Erbil. “From now on, our relationships with the region will be conducted with the central government, Baghdad,” he said. “As Iran, Iraq and Turkey, we work to ensure the games being played in the region will fail.”
Baghdad also ordered the halt to all foreign flights to and from the Kurdish region from 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) Friday. Foreigners scrambled to leave regional capital Erbil and second largest city Sulaimaniyah before the ban took effect.
Washington, another critic, said it did not recognise the “unilateral” referendum and urged dialogue and a rejection of the use of force.
“The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday.