Turkey has reiterated its call on the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to step back from its bid for independence, urging that it will continue to take measures against the autonomous region on grounds that any development happening in Iraq and Syria is Turkey’s internal matter.
“There are incidents in Iraq and Syria at a time when we are focusing on our objectives, but we will overcome all our problems with the support of our people. The developments being observed in Iraq and Syria are directly linked to our internal matters,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Oct. 3, speaking at a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group meeting.
Turkey has already declared the referendum held by the KRG for a unilateral independence as a threat to its territorial integrity and toughened its position against the Arbil administration since the Sept. 25 referendum.
“We hope northern Iraqi officials, who have destroyed the well-maintained relationship and went further by threatening us, will come to their senses as soon as possible,” Erdoğan said. “But it [Turkey] will surely increasingly continue [imposing sanctions] if they don’t come to their senses. We will not refrain from taking further steps as occasions require,” he added.
For his part, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also emphasized that efforts to establish new states in Iraq and Syria are considered as a direct threat to Turkey’s national security, saying “Turkey maintains all its rights to take all necessary actions against it.
Erdoğan travels to Iran
Erdoğan’s remarks came just a day before he is set to travel to Iran for a bilateral visit, where the agenda is expected to be dominated by the KRG’s independence referendum and developments in Syria.
Erdoğan will meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Oct 4. The two presidents will preside over the fifth Turkey-Iran High Level Strategic Council meeting.
Delegations from the two neighboring countries will discuss ways to cooperate on developments in Iraq, the struggle against terrorism, and cooperation in the fields of transportation, energy and border crossings, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told state-run Anadolu Agency on Oct. 3.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey, from time to time, expresses criticisms toward Iran over its regional politics, especially in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf, but “Iran is our neighbor.”
Military operation into northern Iraq is speculation: Deputy PM
Despite Turkey’s harsh reactions and ongoing joint military exercises with the Iraqi military on the two countries’ shared border, a senior Turkish government official ruled out speculations over a potential cross-border operation into northern Iraq.
Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Bekir Bozdağ said claims of a future operation by Turkey into northern Iraq were mere speculation, adding that Turkey will use its forces “with reason.”
“There are allegations stating that [Turkey will] enter the northern Iraqi region, these are mere speculations. Turkey will act in reason, in coordination with its neighbors,” Bozdağ said on Oct. 2, following a cabinet meeting. He said the National Security Council (MGK) has discussed the future steps and possible measures that Ankara would take.
He added that the government will consider the steps to be taken as a priority and Ankara will be in collaboration with the central Iraqi government and Iran.
“All the steps that we will take will be in cooperation,” he said.
“We have taken measures such as bringing forward the MGK meeting, launching military exercises on the Turkey-Iraq border, removing some broadcasters from Turksat [satellite provider] and suspending flights,” he said.
“We will continue [to take measures] until the northern Iraqi regional government steps back,” he added.
Not too late for Barzani to step back: Turkish FM
In line with Erdoğan’s call for the KRG leader Massoud Barzani to call off the referendum, Çavuşoğlu also said “it’s not too late” for the autonomous region to step back from the independence bid.
“If they step back from this mistake, we will maintain our relations, and we will behave the way we did in the past,” Çavuşoğlu told Anadolu Agency on Oct. 3.
When Barzani stops this process, then they can normalize relations with Baghdad, Ankara, and everyone, he noted. The independence referendum of the Iraqi Kurds was neither democratic nor legal, Çavuşoğlu said, adding that even some Kurdish parties in northern Iraq were opposing the polls.