By Fatih Hafiz Mehmet
The Kurdish vote on independence could result in large scale sanctions that will leave the northern Iraqi enclave helpless, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Tuesday.
“You will be left in the middle anyway, from the moment we start implementing sanctions,” he said. “It will be finished when we close a valve. All your income is over.”
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) decision to hold a referendum on independence from Baghdad has troubled its neighbors as well as the U.S. and UN.
The regional government, led by President Masoud Barzani, has enjoyed close ties to Ankara and had used a pipeline stretching from northern Iraq to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan to export oil, a mainstay of the KRG economy.
However, Monday’s referendum -- held in KRG-controlled areas across northern Iraq, including those disputed with Baghdad -- has threatened the relationship.
“The moment that [Turkish] trucks do not work in northern Iraq, they will not be able to find food and clothes,” Erdogan said at a ceremony in Ankara to mark the start of the university year.
He added: “Frankly, we did not give credence until the last moment that Barzani would make a mistake like this.
“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.”
The president reiterated earlier comments that the referendum was unconstitutional and highlighted a lack of international support for the poll.
“Who will accept your independence?” he asked “Israel? But the world is not constituted only of Israel.”
Two weeks before the referendum, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for Kurdish statehood.
“They should review this firstly,” Erdogan said, referring to Israeli support.
“If they do not review we cannot take a lot of steps that we were about to take with Israel. It is not possible for us to take steps with those who do not see Turkey as a playmaker in the region. Turkey is a playmaker in the region.”
Last year, Turkey and Israel signed an agreement to resume normal diplomatic relations but in July tensions between the countries were raised during the Al-Aqsa Mosque crisis.
Erdogan also drew comparison with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has since been recognized by more than 100 countries.
He said: “114 countries accepted Kosovo but unfortunately it could not be a state, it is still in difficulties. Northern Iraq, what will you get only with Israel?”
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 troops and Turkish troops have also started a joint exercise in Silopi, southeast Turkey, on Tuesday.
Iran has also closed its borders with KRG territory and banned flights to and from Iraqi Kurdish airports.
As well as three provinces under KRG control according to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, voting was also held in areas seized by KRG forces from Daesh in Kirkuk provinces and parts of Saladin and Diyala provinces.
The latter contain significant Turkmen and Arab populations, much of which boycotted the referendum.
On Monday, Erdogan said Turkey would initiate political, economic, commercial and security steps against the KRG while Iraq’s central government has threatened to intervene militarily if the vote leads to violence.
However, Barzani has said a “Yes” vote would not result in an automatic declaration of independence but would simply lead to further negotiations with Baghdad.