Erdoğan says Turkey could suddenly launch operation against KRG

Turkey's autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Amid an ongoing crisis over the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) decision to hold an independence referendum on Monday despite opposition from Turkey and the international community, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the Turkish armed forces could suddenly launch an operation one night in the region.

“No one else [except Israel] recognizes the northern Iraq regional government. And we are currently in a very different position with northern Iraq regional government. It is a must that it step back from this decision. It is a must. The federal government definitely does not recognize it, anyway. The council again does not accept it. Of course, in the same vein, we will not allow the founding of one or more than one terrorist state in Syria. They say that in northern Syria, the PYD [Democratic Union Party] and the YPG [People’s Protection Units] are going to build a state there. All of this is an empty dream for them,” Erdoğan said.

Arguing that Turkey will not recognize the referendum no matter the outcome, Erdoğan said it is an illegitimate initiative.

“We are taking all necessary political, economic, commercial and security measures. The armed forces in Silopi [Şırnak district] took the necessary steps there. There will be no compromise. Iran is in the same situation right now. Our air forces are waiting. Currently, only exits to Iraq are allowed. We will announce other measures during the week. Those steps will be taken as well. We will close border crossings,” added Erdoğan.

Erdoğan also warned that Turkey could block the KRG’s oil exports. “We’ll see who KRG will sell its oil to, Turkey is in control of the valve,” he said, referring to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline that connects oil fields in northern Iraq to the oil terminal in the Mediterranean. Oil revenues are of crucial importance for the KRG’s economy, which is suffering from a high rate of unemployment.

Erdoğan noted that Turkey would not hesitate to use force if necessary, saying “Just as we’ve liberated Jarablus, al-Rai, and al-Bab from Daesh in Syria, if need be we won’t shy away from such steps in Iraq.”

“We may come there overnight all of a sudden,” he said sternly. Last week the Turkish Armed Forces began a military drill in the region around the border town of Silopi including 100 military vehicles, which continued with reinforcements this weekend.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has also said on Monday that Turkey would launch a military operation in northern Iraq if the Turkmen population living there is targeted amid a series of warnings from Ankara over an independence referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Monday.

Speaking during an interview with the private A Haber TV on Monday, Çavuşoğlu said it is Turkey’s duty to protect the Turkmens in northern Iraq. “If there is some development threatening our Turkmen friends, if there is any physical intervention with the Turkmens, a military operation [by Turkey] will be launched immediately. It shouldn’t have to be planned. It will be launched according to developments,” he said.

Çavuşoğlu also underlined that Turkey would take all necessary measures to preserve its interests in the region including trade between Ankara and Baghdad. “We have trade with the Iraqi government. If any incident, such as blocking our trade, stopping Turkish trucks and threatening our truck drivers, takes place [in northern Iraq], we will exercise all rights in international agreements,” he added.

However, Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the KRG, has said Arbil has never been a threat to Ankara, and will remain to not be so. After casting his vote in the Kurdish independence referendum in Arbil, Barzani told reporters that Turkey, and others should see the vote for what it is, ‘an expression of the will of the people exclusive for the Iraqi Kurdistan.’

“We are not and will not threaten Turkey’s national security, and neither will we intervene in the Turkish affairs, not today, and neither in the future. We want to be a good neighbor,” Barzani said, according to Rudaw. Barzani has also said that he wanted to visit Turkey to meet Turkish officials, but was denied.

“It has been two months that I have been trying and requesting to visit Turkey so that I will explain that this process of ours is not a threat to Turkey. It is unfortunate that they did not agree to this opportunity to me — or us — to explain it to them up close,” said Barzani.

“I want to say on behalf of the people of Kurdistan, and the Kurdistan Regional Government, to reiterate that Turkey does not have a better friend than the Kurds and the Kurdistan Region in the area. We hope that this relation, for which we worked so hard, not to suffer as the result of [the vote],” Rudaw quoted Barzani as saying.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday has also issued a press release describing the independence referendum as “null” and “void” and said that Turkey does not recognize the referendum, which lacks international legitimacy. Claiming that the KRG had jeopardized stability and peace in the region by ignoring the warnings of Turkey and holding the referendum, the ministry said the KRG’s move will carry a price and that sanctions would be imposed on it. The ministry also called on other countries in the region and the international community to  refrain from recognizing the referendum initiative.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has issued a press release on Monday saying that the Iraqi Armed Forces will join in drills in the Silopi/Habur area on the Turkish-Iraqi border amid tensions in the region over a referendum for independence held by the KRG on Monday. According to the press release, soldiers from the Iraqi Armed Forces arrived in Turkey on Monday evening and would join in the maneuvers from Tuesday. Iraq’s defense ministry has also announced its soldiers had gone to Turkey to take part in the drill on the northern Iraq border.

Meanwhile, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) decided at a meeting on Monday to remove the KRG television channels, Rudaw, K24 TV and Waar TV from the Turkish Satellite Communications (Türksat) platform on Monday. The move came in response to the KRG’s decision to hold an independence referendum despite opposition from Turkey and the international community.

Initial results in a referendum in northern Iraq for independence show that 95.97 percent of people voted in favor of separation from Baghdad and the formation of an independent Kurdistan state. According to the Rudaw TV, the first exit polls show that 95.97 percent people living in northern Iraq said “yes” while 4.07 percent said “no.” (SCF with

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