Erdogan: Kurdish President a ‘Tribal Leader’; Kurds ‘Are Oppressing’ Minorities in Iraq

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani holds a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during the latter's visit to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in Northern Iraq, on December 8, 2015.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan dismissed the possibility of Kurdistan becoming an independent state on Thursday following their independence referendum this week, claiming the process will only end in “disappointment.”

“The Barzani administration has thrown itself into the fire. This fire will only slightly touch us but it will seriously hurt some people,” Erdoğan said in an address to police academy graduates on Thursday.

The referendum, which took place on Monday with a turnout of 78 percent, delivered a landslide result for independence of around 92 percent, which Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has said will mark the beginning of a dialogue with Iraq.

In his speech, Erdogan also accused Barzani of failing to discuss the issue with the affected regions, describing him as “tribal leader,” and accused Kurds of  “oppressing Turkmens” across the region.

“You are leading the Northern Iraq Regional Government. You have got money, oil, everything. So what does he [Barzani] say? He wants to be independent. You have a 350-kilometer border with us. Have you discussed this issue with us?” Erdoğan said. “Have you discussed it with Iran? No. With the Iraqi federal state? No. Is Syria in agreement with it? No. So why did you take such a step? Ruling a state needs different skills than being a tribal leader.”

“[The Kurds] are oppressing Turkmens. They don’t respect Turkmens’ rights. But they still say: ‘We will become a state.’ If we have reacted [against the referendum] so harshly, it is because we only want the best for Arabs,” he continued.

Following the vote on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his Iraqi counterpart, Haider al-Abadi, held a phone conversation where Yildirim emphasized that the Turkish government would be “supporting all measures” taken by the Iraqi government and its Parliament against Kurdistan.

So far, Erdogan has threatened potentially crippling restrictions on oil trading with Kurdistan, whose crude oil revenues represent a key source of income for the region’s economy, and warned he was willing to take “all necessary steps” to protect Turkish interests.

One of those steps includes an end to training provided by Turkish armed forces to Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces to help protect oil fields from capture by Islamic State militants.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Parliament has taken 13 measures against the Kurdish region, which include the deployment of troops in Kurdish territory, as well as legal action against the organizers behind the vote, with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi describing the process as “unconstitutional.”

On Wednesday, a statement from the Iraqi military also confirmed that they had sent a top-ranking delegation to Iran “to coordinate military efforts,” although it did not specify the reason for doing so.

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