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Ankara Increases Pressure on Iraqi Kurds Before Independence Vote

  • Dorian Jones

Turkey's Armed Forces soldiers in tanks take part in a military drill near the town of Silopi, Turkey, close to the Habur border gate between Turkey and the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, Sept. 18, 2017.

Around 100 Turkish tanks and armored vehicles are massed on the Iraqi-Kurdish border, ostensibly for military exercises, that coincide with a hardening of Ankara’s political rhetoric against the independence referendum by Iraqi Kurds.

Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Tuesday the vote is being driven by a sick mentality and warned it threatened to spark regional chaos.

Bozdag said these kinds of steps in the region will ruin regional security and shatter comfort, peace and stability. He added all countries in the region will be negatively affected by it and nobody can tolerate that.

Ankara fears independence by Iraqi Kurds could fuel similar secessionist demands from its restive Kurdish minority.

Bozdag said a final decision on Turkish action will be made at a National Security Council meeting Friday. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned Monday everything was on the table if the Iraqi Kurds went ahead with the vote.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, in Istanbul, Feb. 26, 2017.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, in Istanbul, Feb. 26, 2017.

Former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served in Iraqi Kurdistan, says there is little Ankara can do to change the mind of Iraqi Kurdistan's regional president, Massoud Barzani.

“Mr. Massoud Barzani has no choice but to go ahead with this referendum. If not for Iraqi Kurdistan's future, for his own political legacy. And he has made clear he is not going to run for the president again, already his term expired.

And also he added no Barzani will run in the next presidential elections following the referendum. So he has no choice but to go ahead with this referendum in my mind, and he will not yield to any pressure.”

Despite mounting political and military pressure, observers question whether Turkey would or could back up its saber rattling. Economic sanctions on Iraqi Kurds would be a double-edged sword, while any military action could drag Turkey into a quagmire and possibly isolate the country.

Analysts note the toughest rhetoric is coming from ministers rather than President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a possible sign Ankara is not ready to back its talk with action.

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