Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Sunday declared a vote for independence to be held on Monday by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) “null and void,” the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
“Turkey will not welcome any changes of status or new entities on the southern border. The referendum that will be held tomorrow in northern Iraq is illegitimate, null and void,” said Yıldırım during a party meeting in Ankara.
“The Northern Iraq Regional Government, which took the decision on its own, without asking its people, and insisted on it despite opposition from all nations as well as the UN, will be primarily responsible for all possible developments,” added the prime minister.
Yıldırım underlined that people living in the region will possibly pay a post-referendum cost. “Whatever the result of the referendum is, we will call on Kurds, Arabs and Turcomans to account for it, but we will say that those who insisted on it are at fault,” said Yıldırım.
Meanwhile, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani spoke on the phone on Sunday about the independence referendum by Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Evaluating the referendum and other recent developments in the region, the two leaders noted that “not canceling the referendum will bring with it chaos in the region.” Erdoğan and Rouhani also underlined the importance of Iraq’s territorial integrity.
The telephone diplomacy between Ankara and Tehran came hours after a statement from KRG President Massoud Barzani saying that they will not cancel the referendum despite international pressure including from Turkey and Iran. “Only through independence we can secure our future,” Barzani said.
Following a request from Baghdad, Iran on Sunday announced a halt of air traffic to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan region, a day ahead of the region’s historic independence referendum, the ISNA news agency reported.
According to the report, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) has closed Iran’s airspace and air border to the Iraqi Kurdish region, SNSC spokesman Keyvan Khosravi said. He said that Iran took the decision because the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did not cancel the referendum despite many requests by Iraq and Iran.
Based on the decision, all flights to Sulaymaniyah and Arbil airports as well as transit flights from Iraqi Kurdistan through Iran’s air zone are halted, Khosravi added.
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).
The Iraqi army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanmi, paid a visit to Turkey on Saturday amid a crisis over the KRG’s referendum.
Turkish President 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.
The Turkish Parliament held an extraordinary session on Saturday and approved a motion to extend another one year a mandate to conduct cross-border operations in Syria and Iraq as tensions increase in the region ahead of the referendum.
The Kurdistan High Council for the Referendum said on Saturday that rumors of postponing the vote for independence are baseless and that it will be held on time. Despite reactions the KRG continued preparations for the referendum, putting ballot boxes in polling stations.
Amid tension between Turkey and KRG over the independence referendum, Yiğit Bulut, a top adviser of Turkish President Erdoğan, on Saturday called KRG President Barzani a “dog,” threatening him with a Turkish military operation.
“Wait, dog who is called ‘Barzani,’ we are coming. You will not wait a long time…” said Bulut in a twitter message in caps attached to his article on Barzani, shared by İlhan Tanır, a Washington-based Turkish journalist. Tanır said Bulut later deleted his tweet.
In an article published in the Star daily on Sunday Bulut claimed that Israel is urging Barzani to commit suicide by holding an independence referendum.
In a video shared on the Internet in 2013, Bulut was talking to a group of ruling Justice and Development Party members and said the KRG would hold a referendum in two years to become part of Turkey.
President Erdoğan on Thursday expressed his frustration over the Kurdish leader: “Barzani has strained the relations to the point of cutoff. Whey 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.” (SCF with turkishminute.com)