EghtesadOnline: The Turkish army kicked off a military drill near the border with Iraq’s Kurdish region, underscoring Turkey’s threat to do whatever it deems necessary against an Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum scheduled for next week.
Dozens of Turkish tanks dotted an open field just a few kilometers from the Iraqi border on Monday, according to footage on CNN-Turk television. Erdogan, who fears a sovereign Kurdish state would encourage Turkey’s own Kurdish separatists, said Sunday that he would discuss the Sept. 25 vote with President Donald Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
While Ankara and the semi-automonous Kurdistan Regional Government have strong ties based on energy links and suspicion of the central government in Baghdad, a vote for Kurdish independence in Iraq’s oil-rich north could set back Turkey’s campaign to stamp out a Kurdish insurgency it’s been battling for three decades, according to Bloomberg.
The referendum is a “matter of national security for our country,” Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said last week. “Nobody should doubt that we will take all action necessary against it.”
The military drill is a “signal that Turkey may review its support for Iraq’s Kurds, rather than intervene in Iraqi affairs militarily,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, an Ankara-based research center.
Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani has rejected U.S. appeals to postpone the referendum, prompting Turkey to move up a National Security Council meeting to Sept. 22. The Turkish cabinet will decide its final position that day, Erdogan said. Israel is the only country to back the plebiscite.
Iraq’s Kurds have defied the Baghdad government by independently selling oil from disputed Kirkuk province via Turkey. On Monday, Russia’s state-run energy company Rosneft said it sees an agreement on a gas pipeline project with the KRG completed by year’s end.
Abadi said last week that Kurdish crude exports from Kirkuk violate the Iraqi constitution, and Iraq’s parliament voted to dismiss the province’s Kurdish governor.