DAMASCUS, SYRIA (4:00 PM) – Turkey will impose severe sanctions upon Iraqi Kurdistan if the planned independence referendum will be held as planned on September 25. This was said by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting held on Tuesday.
Addressing the assembled press outside his hotel in New York, the Turkish president told reporters that his administration was about to discuss plans of action to come into effect if the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraqi Kurdistan were to press on with the planned plebiscite despite the many warnings against it by several international partners.
“As the national security council, we will advise the government on our decision. With it, the cabinet will meet and discuss this. It will both evaluate this and put forth their own stance on what kind of sanctions we can impose, or if we will, but these will not be ordinary,” Erdogan stated.
President Erdogan’s words echo earlier statements by representatives from both Iraq and Iran. Earlier, representatives from both nations had already made it very clear that any secession of the KRG from the Republic of Iraq would not be accepted. Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi has accused the Kurdish authorities of “playing with fire”, and Vice President Nouri al-Maliki declared that Iraq “will not allow the establishment of another Israel” on Iraqi soil.
However, the Turkish leader’s statement is the first one that carries explicit mentioning of sanctions against the Kurdish region if the referendum were to be held as planned. Earlier, Erdogan had taken the stage in the UNGA meeting to warn of the dangers of Kurdish secession, but had not elaborated on a possible response by Turkey.
Not long after the president’s statement in New York, Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli addressed reporters in the Turkish capital of Ankara with similar sentiments. “A change that will mean the violation of Iraq’s territorial integrity poses a major risk for Turkey (…) The disruption of Syria and Iraq’s territorial integrity will ignite a bigger, global conflict with an unseen end.”, Canikli declared.
While no specific sanctions have so far been announced, it seems likely that they would target the petroleum export sector. Turkey currently enjoys extensive commercial relations with the KRG, with hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil being pumped from the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to Turkey every day. Just recently, the Kurdish Regional Government approved of a project by Russian company Rosneft to invest in gas pipelines between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey.
Relations between the two have significantly soured though after Kurdish lawmakers decided to ignore warnings by Turkey, Iran and the central Iraqi government, and to push through with the planned referendum. Reports have it that Turkey has started to drill for oil fields right at the border on Tuesday, likely in an attempt to reduce its future reliance on Kurdish petroleum imports.
The Kurdish referendum is bound to be held on September 25, despite numerous calls to cancel it from Iraq, Iran, Turkey and even the United Nations. On Monday, the Iraqi supreme court voted to suspend the plebiscite as being unconstitutional and illegal under Iraqi law. The Iraqi parliament had earlier voiced a similar sentiment, declaring that no matter what the outcome, the referendum would not be accepted as legitimate.