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Turkey says Iraqi Kurdish referendum will destabilise region

Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region is seeking independence in a vote in September. [AFP]

Date of publication: 16 August, 2017

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A referendum next month on Iraqi Kurdish independence will destabilise the region and violate Iraq's constitution, a Turkish government spokesman said on Tuesday.

A referendum next month on Iraqi Kurdish independence will destabilise the region and violate Iraq's constitution, a Turkish government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Iraqi Kurds have said they will go ahead with the independence referendum on 25 September, despite a US request to postpone it and opposition from Iraq's neighbours who have Kurdish minorities.

"The referendum would contribute to instability in the region," Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdag told a news conference after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, adding the decision to go ahead with the vote "violates the constitution of Iraq".

Last week, Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak said the vote would harm energy cooperation with northern Iraq's Kurdish authorities, who pump hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day to Turkey's Ceyhan export terminal.

Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.

Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organisation by Ankara, has waged a three-decade insurgency for independence against the Turkish state.

The Kurds have been seeking an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East

The United States and other Western nations are worried that the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad.

The US state department said last week that it was concerned the vote would distract from "more urgent priorities" such as defeating the Islamic State group.

Earlier on Tuesday, a senior Iraqi Kurdish leader sought to allay concerns the referendum would hurt the fight against Islamic State.

Speaking in Washington, Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdish government's Security Council and son of President Massoud Barzani, said the government was committed to fighting "terrorism regardless of the political relationship with Baghdad".

In Syria, Damascus has dismissed as a "joke" plans by the Kurdish-led administration in the north of the country to hold local elections next month.

Kurdish groups in northern Syria have carved out self-governing autonomous regions since early in Syria's six-year civil war.

The Kurds have been seeking an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East, but their territory ended up split between modern-day Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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