Several nations speak out against the Kurdish Regional Government's referendum on support for administrative independence. They say it will derail ongoing anti-terror operations.

A man arrives to vote during a referendum on support for independence organised by the Kurdish Regional Government in Halabja, Iraq. September 25, 2017.
A man arrives to vote during a referendum on support for independence organised by the Kurdish Regional Government in Halabja, Iraq. September 25, 2017. (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says no one should expect Turkey “to turn a blind eye to the establishment of a new entity on our borders." 

Erdogan made the statement as the Kurdish Regional Government's referendum on support for secessation in northern Iraq was under way on Monday.

Speaking at a forum in Istanbul, Erdogan threatened Turkey could cut off the Kirkuk–Ceyhan pipeline that carries oil from northern Iraq to the outside world, piling more pressure on the semi-autonomous region over its ballot.

“After this, let’s see through which channels the northern Iraqi regional government will send its oil, or where it will sell it,” Erdogan said in a speech at a forum in Istanbul.

“We have the tap. The moment we close the tap, then it’s done.”

He stopped short of saying that Turkey had decided to close off the oil flow. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day flow through the pipeline in Turkey from the northern Iraqi region.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Monday insisted the “legitimate authority” for Turkey in Iraq was the central government in Baghdad.

Speaking during a live TV interview, Yildirim said the KRG vote was illegitimate and its results would be null and void.

"From now on, we will directly speak to Iraq's central government and decide accordingly," the Turkish premier added.

"[The vote] will not contribute to regional peace and stability, but it will increase existing tension and problems," he said.

Yildirim said the "insistence” on the vote had, in a sense, created an “environment for conflict."

How does the vote impact the region?

Monday's non-binding referendum will see Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas — and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad — vote on whether or not to declare independence.

Along with Baghdad and Turkey, the US, Iran and the UN have all spoken out against the vote. One primary concern is the results will distract from the ongoing fight against Daesh and further destabilise the region. 

Both Turkey and Iran have concerns a new Kurdish region carved out of Iraq will give space to terror groups like the PKK. They also have a substantial Kurdish population which will be affected by a semi-autonomous region in Iraq.

Iraq’s central government has even threatened to intervene militarily if the vote leads to violence. 

Baghdad threatens military intervention

Calling Monday’s controversial referendum a "unilateral" decision, Iraq’s central government on Sunday asked the regional government to hand over all border gates and airports to Baghdad and moved to control its oil flow.

The remarks came in a statement read out after a National Security Council meeting on state-run Iraqiye TV.

"The referendum is a unilateral step and brings events to a crisis. Iraq’s government asks the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to hand over all border gates and airports to Baghdad and demands neighbouring countries only contact Baghdad on oil and border issues."

According to the statement, Baghdad “rejects any dialogue with Erbil after the referendum, as it is not constitutional.”

Sanctions on KRG-held northern Iraq

Turkey will take "all measures" under international law if the KRG's referendum on support for independence being held on Monday generates threats to Turkey's national security, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said earlier.

The statement came after voting started.

"We stress again that we will take all measures arising from international law and the Turkish parliament's authority in the face of every kind of threat to our national security in Iraq generally," the ministry said.

The Foreign Ministry said that the National Security Council on Monday outlined the sanctions to be imposed on the Kurdish region in the event of a vote for independence, which were later agreed by the Cabinet.

In a statement released following a meeting at the presidential palace in capital Ankara, the Council said: “Turkey reserves all options arising from bilateral and international agreements if Kurdish regional referendum is held.”

Iran halts flights

Iran on Sunday closed its airspace with northern Iraq’s Kurdish region at the request of the Iraqi government, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.

“At the request of the Iraqi government, all air flights to the airports of Sulaymaniyah and Erbil airports have been halted,” IRNA quoted Kaivan Khosrawi, a spokesperson for the Iranian Supreme Security Council, as saying.

He said flights from the Kurdish region to Iran have also been stopped.

Support for united Iraq

Syria rejects the referendum organised by the KRG, Syrian regime foreign minister said.

"We in Syria only recognise a united Iraq and reject any procedure that leads to the fragmentation of Iraq," Foreign Minister Walid al Moualem said, as reported by the regime news agency SANA.

"This step is rejected, and we do not recognise it.  And yesterday I informed the Iraqi foreign minister of this stance."

China 

China supports Iraq's unity, the country's foreign ministry said on Monday.

"The Chinese government supports Iraq's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing when asked about the referendum.

"We hope the relevant sides can resolve the differences via dialogue, and find an inclusive solution that takes into account history and reality, to jointly protect Iraqi and regional stability," Lu added.

Source: AA