Erdogan warns of ‘ethnic war’ risk over Iraqi Kurdish independence

Erdogan described the vote in Kurdistan as a "treason to our country" since it had come at a time of good relations between Ankara and its neighbour the KRG

Ankara (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the Iraqi Kurdistan region against pushing for independence after holding a non-binding referendum, saying it risked sparking an “ethnic war” in the region.

In his latest barrage of warnings to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, Erdogan even warned that his region risked going short on food and clothing if Turkish sanctions were applied. 

“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,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

Iraq’s Kurds on Monday voted in a historic independence referendum despite fierce opposition from Baghdad and neighbours Iran and Turkey.

Results were expected within 24 hours, with an overwhelming “yes” vote not in doubt.

Erdogan described the vote as a “treason to our country” since it had come at a time of good relations between Ankara and the neighbouring KRG.

He urged Barzani to “give up on an adventure which can only have a dark end.”

Erdogan reaffirmed that Turkey — which fears the effects of the vote on its own sizeable Kurdish population — would consider all options, from economic sanctions to military measures.

“Airspace and ground (options) are all on the table,” he said, in apparent reference to his past threats to close the border.

“All options are on the table right now and being discussed,” he said. “You (the KRG) will be stuck from the moment we start implementing the sanctions.”

– ‘No food or clothes’ –

Ankara has said it will work more closely with the central government in Baghdad in response to the referendum by Iraqi Kurds. Baghdad has also refused to recognise the referendum.

As a first sign of this new policy, Iraqi soldiers on Tuesday took part in a Turkish military drill close to the Iraqi border on Tuesday, an AFP photographer said.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Ankara representative of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Omer Mirani, who is currently in Arbil, Iraq, had been told not to come back to Turkey.

“If he was here, we would tell him to leave the country,” said Cavusoglu, quoted by Turkish media.

Erdogan also reaffirmed his threat to block the Iraqi Kurds’ crucial oil exports that go via the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

“The moment we turn off the valve, it is finished, all your income will disappear,” he said.

“When the trucks stop crossing into northern Iraq, they will not find food or clothes … Will Israel send them what and from where?”

Erdogan insisted that no other country would recognise the Iraqi Kurds’ independence other than Israel, which had warmly supported the referendum.

“Who will recognise your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel,” he said. “Hey northern Iraq, what will you do with Israel alone?”

“You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you.” 


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