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Turkey rejects independence referendum decision of Iraqi Kurds

Turkey has criticized a plan by Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to hold a independence referendum, calling this alarming move of its ally neighbours as a "grave mistake" susceptible of creating new problems for the region.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Iraq's territorial integrity was a "precondition" for lasting stability for the country and urged Iraqi Kurds to be part of efforts to strengthen Iraq's unity.

Iraqi Kurdish officials said on June 7 that the region would hold a independence referendum on Sept. 25, a move which has not been welcomed by the federal government in Baghdad, which doesn't want to loose vast areas of territory, particularly oil-rich ones.

The news is not surprising since Iraqi Kurds have long sought independence from the rest of Iraq. And in recent months Massoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish region (KRG), has told he would push for a popular vote.

Erbil, the capital of the KRG, and Ankara have developed close political, economy and security ties for about a decade, both opposing strongly Islamic State (IS).

Turkey, which is facing a Kurdish insurgency on its territory, is opposed to moves toward Kurdish independence. Turkey fears a Kurdish state would destabilize its southern provinces where millions of Turkish Kurds live.

And also if a Kurdish state is forged from Iraq, Ankara assumes that it would appropriate Kurdish occupied and controlled territory in Syria which can produce a security threat along Turkey's border.

"We have enough problems in our region. We believe it is not correct to create a new area of conflict," said the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, calling the move "irresponsible."

Turkey's pro-government daily Yeni Safak reported on Saturday that Ankara will impose economic and political sanctions against the Iraqi Kurds if they do not back down from their decision.

Iran, another neighbour of Iraq, is also opposed to a Kurdish independence in line with Turkey's position and will most certainly continue to oppose possible referendum.

The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that it opposed Iraqi Kurdish authorities' referendum plan. It said the vote would be a distraction from more urgent priorities, including the fight against IS.

"The United States supports a unified, federal, stable, and democratic Iraq," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Iraqi Kurds currently enjoy almost total autonomy, but tensions with the Baghdad government remain over control of oil reserves.

Though Kurds have proved to be tough and reliable allies in the fight against IS, the U.S. is wary of the Kurds longstanding dream of full independence, fearing a split could provoke a new round of conflict in Iraq.

"For the western world the main focus should be on defeating IS on the ground, in Iraq and Syria. Western powers do not oppose such a referendum but think that the timing might defer attention from the jihadist," said to Xinhua law professor Vahap Coskun from the Dicle University of Diyarbakir, Turkey's largest mainly Kurdish city, near the Iraqi border.

"An independence will not be in the near future but Iraqi Kurdish authorities want to see what their population thinks of such a move, which, at the end, could be accepted by Turkey in line with realpolitik necessity," argued Coskun.

"There is a de facto ( Kurdish) entity and Ankara is aware of that and has good relations with it, an independence would only make this entity recognized on the legal and international fields," added this expert.

But only days after the announcement of the referendum decision, Ankara is still sticking with its official rhetoric.

"We have sound relations with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and such a move is potentially harmful to our partnership and to efforts to eradicate IS from the region," said to Xinhua a Turkish diplomatic source on the condition of anonymity.

He also said that problems will occur around disputed areas claimed by both Kurdish Iraq and Baghdad, including the key oil-rich province of Kirkouk, traditionally important to Ankara because it harbours the Turkish speaking minority of Turkmen.

Kurds have been called the world's largest group of stateless people. They are spread among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

It is not clear for the moment if this referendum will go ahead despite neighbouring country's and Bagdad's opposition but if held a "Yes" is largely expected.

"The yes would prevail despite political divisions among Iraqi Kurds, but how will it be implemented that's a thing we shall have to wait and see," political commentator Deniz Zeyrek said to Xinhua.

[Fuente: By Burak Akinci, Xinhua, Ankara, 11Jun17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 12Jun17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.