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


ANKARA: 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 an 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.”

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

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.”

Iranian Kurds march in support of independence vote

Thousands of Iranian Kurds marched in the streets to show their support for an independence referendum staged by Kurdish authorities in neighbouring Iraq, defying a show of power by Tehran which flew fighter jets over their areas.

Iranian officials and media have denounced Monday’s vote as a threat to regional stability, adding to pressure from Baghdad, threats from Iran and Turkey, and international warnings that it may ignite yet more conflict in the Mideast.

Undaunted by years of official suppression of dissent, residents in a number of mainly Kurdish cities in northwestern Iran danced in circles as night fell on Monday, chanting slogans praising Kurdish nationalist movements.

Videos posted on social media showed drivers beeping their car horns in celebration and people clapping in the cities of Marivan and Baneh. Many wore masks so as not to be identified by the security forces.

About 30 million ethnic Kurds are scattered across the region but have no country of their own. With 8 to 10 million living in Iran, Tehran fears pressure for secession will grow among a minority which has a long history of the struggle for its political rights.

A strong police presence tried to control the celebrating crowd. There were reports of clashes between the demonstrators and security forces in the cities of Mahabad and Sanandaj.

In Sanandaj, the crowd waved the flag of Kurdistan, a banned symbol for the Kurds’ desire for independence.