'Israeli flags won’t save you': Erdogan threatens Iraqi Kurds with famine over referendum
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Iraqi Kurds will “not be able to find food” if Ankara decides to halt the flow of trucks and oil into the region, adding that all military and economic sanctions are on the table.
“[They] will be left in the lurch when we start imposing our sanctions,” Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live on television on Tuesday, as quoted by Reuters.
“It will be over when we close the oil taps, all [their] revenues will vanish, and they will not be able to find food when our trucks stop going to northern Iraq.”
The Turkish president then warned that Israel’s support would be insufficient to sustain the Iraqi Kurds’ drive for independence and would not save them from international isolation. Erdogan added that Tel Aviv does not exercise sufficient leverage over the world community.
“Who will recognize your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel. You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you,” he said, as quoted by Hurriyet.
"If the only support for the KRG’s referendum is given by Israel and if the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK starts celebrating [the results] even before the polls close then there can be neither innocence nor legitimacy,” Erdogan said.
The Israel reference comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support for an independent Kurdistan earlier this month, while taking aim at Ankara's support of Hamas.
“Israel opposes the PKK and considers it a terrorist organization, in contrast to Turkey, which supports the terrorist group Hamas,” Netanyahu said during a state visit to Argentina. “While Israel is opposed to any kind of terrorism, it supports the legitimate means of the Kurdish people to obtain their own state.”
The Turkish leader said Iraqi Kurds are incapable of creating their own state. “They don’t have an idea on how to be a state. They think that they are a state just by saying it. This can’t and won’t happen,” he said.
He also called the Iraqi Kurds’ decision to hold an independence referendum “a betrayal to our country [Turkey] in an era where our relations were at their best level in history,” adding that the referendum would be “null and void” regardless of its results.
If the Kurdish Regional Government that does not backtrack on their decision concerning the referendum “as soon as possible,” they will “go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdogan added.
The Turkish president warned that all options – from economic sanctions to military measures – are on the table. Although the Turkish president has repeatedly warned of sanctions, he has so far provided few details.
A halt in Ankara's supply of oil to the region would be welcomed by Baghdad, which has asked foreign countries to stop direct oil trading with the region.
However, retaliatory moves following the referendum may have already begun, according to a Turkish broadcasting official who told Reuters that Turkey has pulled Kurdish TV channel Rudaw from its TurkSat satellite service.
The Turkish president's comments come just one day after the KRG held an independence referendum, prompting Erdogan to accuse the KRG's president, Massoud Barzani, of “treachery” over the vote.
“Until the very last moment, we weren’t expecting Barzani to make such a mistake as holding the referendum, apparently we were wrong,” the Turkish president said in his Tuesday speech.
“This referendum decision, which has been taken without any consultation, is treachery.”
Barzani has stressed, however, that the vote is not binding. Rather, it is aimed at prompting negotiations with Baghdad and neighboring countries over a peaceful breakaway of the region from Iraq.
KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani expressed a similar sentiment on Monday.
“The referendum does not mean independence will happen tomorrow, nor are we redrawing borders,” he said. “If the ‘yes’ vote wins, we will resolve our issues with Baghdad peacefully.”
However, Baghdad has said it will not hold talks with the KRG on the results of the “unconstitutional” referendum.
“We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a speech broadcast on state TV on Monday night.
Turkey, Iran, and Syria are also against the secession of the region, fearing it will inflame separatism among their own ethnic Kurdish populations.
Meanwhile, Ankara and Baghdad banded together in a show of force on Tuesday, with their militaries holding joint military exercises in southeast Turkey, near the border with Iraq's Kurdistan Region.
Although official results of the referendum are expected by Wednesday, initial results indicated that 72 percent of eligible voters had taken part in the referendum, and that a huge majority – perhaps over 90 percent – had voted ‘yes’ to independence, according to Rudaw.