Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to impose sanctions against Kurdish northern Iraq over the independence referendum, while Turkish troops deployed near the Habur border crossing.
Erdogan said the Turkish cabinet and security council would discuss Ankara’s options on Friday, three days before the referendum. They will “put forward their own stance on what kind of sanctions we can impose, or if we will,” he told reporters in New York, according to Anadolu news agency.
“But these will not be ordinary,” Erdogan added without spelling out what sanctions might be.
Turkey has built strong trade ties with the Kurdish semi-autonomous region which exports hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day through Turkey to international markets.
Erdogan said Kurdish determination to hold the referendum disregarded Turkey’s support for KRG leadership until now. “We will announce our final thoughts on the issue with the cabinet meeting and national security council decision,” Erdogan said pointing out that, “I think it would be better if they saw this.”
Western allies and Iraq’s neighbour countries are pressing Iraqi Kurdish authorities to call off the vote planned on Sep.25. Western allies say it could detract from the fight against Islamic State and Iraq’s neighbours fear that the vote will fuel unrest among their own Kurdish populations.
Turkey is afraid that referendum could embolden the outlawed Kurdish PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s southeast since 1984.
The Turkish air force frequently strikes against PKK units operating from the mountains of northern Iraq, and limited detachments of Turkish infantry have made forays across the frontier in the past.
On Monday, the Turkish army reportedly launched a highly visible military drill near the Habur border crossing, which military sources said was due to last until Sept. 26, a day after the planned referendum.
Around 100 tanks and military vehicles, backed by rocket launchers and radar, deployed in open farmlands near the frontier, guns pointed south towards the Kurdish mountains, Reuters news agency reported
As it is known, Turkey stationed troops in Bashiqa near Mosul, ignoring protests from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, ahead of the military campaign to drive Islamic State out of the northern Iraqi city.
Ankara also sees itself as protector of Iraq’s Turkmen ethnic minority, with a particular focus on the oil city of Kirkuk which Kurds seized in 2014 as Iraqi troops retreated in the face of Islamic State advances.