KRG council says no postponement of independence referendum

The Kurdistan High Council for the Referendum said on Saturday that rumors of postponing a referendum for independence to be held in northern Iraq on Monday are baseless and that it will be held on time.

According to the Kurdistan 24 website, the high council said in a statement on Saturday that the vote for independence to be held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will take place on Monday as planned.

Amid tension over KRG independence referendum, the Turkish Parliament on Saturday approved the extension of a mandate permitting the government to deploy troops to Iraq and Syria for another year, just two days before the scheduled referendum to be held by the KRG. The motion stated that Turkey places great importance on the protection of Iraq’s territorial integrity, national unity, and stability.

The motion was approved by a large majority in the assembly with deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) joining the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) while opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) deputies voted it down.

Speaking on behalf of the government during the extraordinary session, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said the referendum would always be null and void for Turkey. Canikli stated that all options and methods were on the table regarding the referendum and Turkey will not hesitate to use them.

He said the referendum would bring very dangerous consequences and it may also lead to clashes even in global terms. “Pulling out just a brick from a structure based on very sensitive and fragile balances will sow the seeds for new hatred, enmity and clashes,” Canikli said.

Canikli has also added that the Syrian Kurdish YPG was pursuing a “political formation” along the Syrian border. “It is impossible to avert those threats unless Turkey takes steps to remove those mistakes and threats actively on the field,” Canikli said. “Those risks that threaten our security are still active and there is a need for the authorizations demanded with this mandate,” he added.

HDP deputy Osman Baydemir stated that an alliance between AKP and MHP and other “evil focus groups” brought Turkey into a bad situation, claiming that the mandate amounted to a “clear declaration of enmity against the Kurdish people.”

For the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Öztürk Yılmaz said the KRG referendum did not comply with the international law as well as the Iraqi constitution. Yılmaz said that the referendum would also endanger security in the region, adding, “Israel wants to use Barzani against Iran.”

Meanwhile, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also criticized KRG President Massoud Barzani, saying Ankara gave him a $2 billion loan to pay the salaries of his public workers but that he did not appreciate it, Haberturk reported.

“Barzani has strained the relations to the point of cutoff. When they were unable to pay the salaries of their civil servants, we helped them. I was prime minister at the time. We gave them a $2 billion loan. But they didn’t appreciate it. Neither the US nor Russia helped them like we did,” Erdoğan told a group of Turkish journalist in New York.

Erdoğan on Wednesday threatened to impose sanctions on Kurdish northern Iraq over the planned independence vote.

Erdoğan and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, who met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday, reaffirmed their opposition to the KRG’s independence referendum.

Following a Cabinet meeting chaired by Erdoğan in Ankara late on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ called on the KRG to cancel the referendum completely.

“We are also against its postponement. To postpone means to allow it to happen in the future. This referendum must be canceled in a way that will not be repeated again,” Bozdağ said.

İbrahim Kalın, spokesperson for the Turkish Presidency, said on Saturday that the independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan will have serious consequences and trigger fresh crises in the region. “If the referendum is not canceled, it will have serious consequences. Arbil should immediately correct this serious mistake that will trigger new crises in the region,” Kalın tweeted.

In October of last year, Parliament approved an extension of the mandate of the Turkish Armed Forces to conduct military operations in Iraq and Syria for another year. The mandate was first approved in 2007. In 2014, it was extended to include Syria for possible operations against the PKK, ISIL in Iraq and Syria and other groups.

Also on Saturday, the Iraqi army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanmi, paid a visit to Turkey. It was reported that al-Ghanmi met with Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar at military headquarters in Ankara.  They discussed the “illegitimate” Iraqi Kurdish referendum and stressed the importance of maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity, the Turkish military said in a statement.

Gen. Akar will also meet his Iranian counterpart Major General Mohamed Baqeri ahead of President Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran on October 4. The two soldiers are expected to discuss Iraq and developments in Syria as well as fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Iranian chief of staff had visited Ankara last time on August 15, 2017.

Iraq’s neighbors and allies, including Turkey and the US, oppose the referendum, warning that it will trigger ethnic violence, create divisions in Iraq and undermine the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

As a warning to the KRG, Turkey last week launched a military drill in the Silopi/Habur region on the Turkish-Iraqi border. The Turkish Armed Forces on Saturday increased the level of a drill it has been conducting near the Iraqi border for the past six days as additional troops were deployed. According to military sources, the drill was increased to the “second phase” on Saturday.

The exercise began in the southeastern province of Şırnak’s Silopi district, which sits to the north of the Syrian and Iraqi borders. The army said the exercise is ‘part of Turkey’s anti-terror operations’ in the border region. (SCF with

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