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Turkey vows drastic measures against Kurdish referendum with few steps taken so far
Turkey has vowed for measures against Iraqi Kurds' independence referendum from economic pressure to military undertakings.
It plays its cards bit by bit against Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) which was its strategic partner in the region until a short while ago.
Turkish leadership harshly criticized the vote by the Iraqi Kurdish region held on Monday which seeks independence in the autonomous Kurdish region from Iraq.
The Turkish government threatened Erbil to impose punitive sanctions against its once-partner which Ankara has developed strong political, security and economic relations for about a decade.
However, Turkish government's cooperation is critical to the Iraqi Kurds for several reasons.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday hinted at barring Iraqi Kurds from exporting gas via Turkey, saying "We own the valve. The moment we shut the valve, that's the end of it."
The KRG's fragile economy depends on near exclusively on oil. Turkey's southern Ceyhan is currently the sole outlet for Kurdish crude to be exported for world markets.
Ankara keeps the card of closing the Habur border gate to northern Iraq with merely increasing controls at the gate for now which is under the control of the KRG across the border.
Iraq's central government informed Ankara that Baghdad will take control of international border posts and its international airports, retaliating to the referendum, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Monday.
Turkey has a trade volume of 2.5 billion U.S. dollars with the Iraqi Kurds and is one of the two main partners of the region along with Iran. They are dependent on Turkey for many products, including food, textiles and furniture.
Despite officially not confirmed, Turkey reportedly had supported the KRG with cash for delivering its public salaries as it is currently in an economic bottleneck.
The Turkish army launched military exercises last week near the Habur border gate with participation of Iraqi soldiers on late Monday.
President Erdogan also pointed to the military exercises currently taking place on Turkey's border with the Iraqi Kurdish region. "Our military is not (at the border) for nothing. We can suddenly step in one night," Erdogan said on Monday implying a military operation into northern Iraq.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu clarified it later in the day warning about a possible military intervention in northern Iraq if the Turkmen there gets targeted following an independence referendum in the region.
The Iraqi Kurds are also laying claim to some territories, including oil-rich Kirkuk, whose status is disputed according to the Iraqi Constitution. Kirkuk is currently controlled by the Kurdish peshmerga forces, dominated by Kurds but is also home to Arabs, Assyrian Christians and Turkmen.
Ankara sees itself as the protector of Turkmen community in Kirkuk and has repeatedly warned against including the province in the referendum.
Turkish Foreign Minister also stated the end of Turkish training of Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
The Bashiqa camp, where Turkish army have provided training of local Sunni groups and Kurdish Peshmerga forces against the Islamic State(IS) elements in the region on the expense of drawing reaction of Baghdad who claimed Turkish troops were deployed illegally out of central government's consent.
Voicing several sanctions against the Iraqi Kurds, Ankara solely decided Monday to suspend broadcast of the KRG's three TV channels in Turkey.
As the Turkish government joins chorus against the Kurdish referendum along with Iraq and Iran, even came to the point of joint measures against the KRG although Ankara was at odds with these neighbors till recently.
Turkey is home to the largest Kurdish population in the region and itself fighting a Kurdish insurgency on its soil, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Ankara faces two threads over Kurdish referendum according to political analyst Ahmet Kasim Han.
One is the risk of further instability in the region that could bring more clashes, the other is the Kurdish independence could be an example to its own Kurdish population in the country given the current political environment in Turkey, Han said.
[Source: Xinhua, Ankara, 25Sep17]
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