Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
has warned that all military and economic measures are on the table against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), arguing that Masoud Barzani’s decision to go ahead with the vote was “betrayal to Turkey.”
“Frankly, we did not give credence until the last moment that Barzani would make a mistake like this,” Erdoğan said on Sept. 26 in Ankara, once again noting that the referendum is “null and void” regardless of the result.
“This means that we were wrong. The decision, which was taken without a prior consultation or meeting, is a betrayal to our country in an era where our relations were at their best level in history,” Erdoğan said.
The regional government, led by Barzani, has enjoyed close ties to Ankara
and has been using a pipeline stretching from northern Iraq to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceylan to export oil, a mainstay of the KRG economy.
However, Sept. 25’s referendum -- held in KRG-controlled areas across northern Iraq, including those disputed with Baghdad -- has threatened the relationship.
Iraqi Kurds would go hungry if Turkey halts the flow of trucks and oil across the border with northern Iraq, Erdoğan argued.
“[They] will be left in the lurch when we start imposing our sanctions,” Erdoğan said.
“It will be over when we close the oil taps, all [their] revenues will vanish, and they will not be able to find food when our trucks stop going to northern Iraq.”
The president said the only country to support the KRG’s push for independence was Israel.
“Who will recognize your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel. You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you,” he said.
“If the only support for the KRG’s referendum is given by Israel
and if the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK
starts celebrating [the results] even before the polls close then there can be neither innocence nor legitimacy.” Erdoğan said.
The president warned the Iraqi Kurdish leader against pushing for independence, saying such a move risked sparking an “ethnic war” in the region.
“If Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdoğan added.
Iraqi Kurds would be incapable of forming a state, according to Erdoğan.
“They don’t have an idea on how to be a state. They think that they are a state just by saying it. This can’t and won’t happen,” he said.
In recent days, Ankara
has launched a military exercise across the border from KRG territory, threatened restrictions at the main frontier crossing and warned that Iraqi Kurdish TV stations may no longer be broadcast by a Turkish satellite provider.
Iraqi soldiers joined Turkish troops for military exercises in southeast Turkey near the border with Iraq on Sept. 26, as the two countries coordinate steps in response to the referendum.
A small group of soldiers holding an Iraqi and a Turkish flag walked across the dusty plain where the exercises, launched last week, were being held 4 kilometers from the Habur border gate.
The flags were then held aloft from the top of an armored personnel carrier. National and international media observed the exercises from the main highway leading to the border gate.
The referendum was held in three provinces under KRG control according to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, as well as in areas seized by KRG forces from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Kirkuk provinces and parts of Saladin and Diyala provinces.
The latter contains significant Turkmen and Arab populations, many of which boycotted the referendum.
Barzani has said a “Yes” vote would not result in an automatic declaration of independence but would simply lead to further negotiations with Baghdad.