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Regional Powers Move to Restrict Kurds Following Referendum Vote

  • VOA News

Hours ahead of a flight ban threatened by the central government, passengers file through Irbil international airport Friday, September 29, 2017.

Iran, Iraq and Turkey – three countries with large Kurdish populations – are imposing restrictions on Iraqi Kurds following the Kurdish independence referendum this week that passed with more than 92 percent of the vote.

Iraq’s central government is making preparations for its military to seize control of international borders along the northern Kurdish region in an attempt to isolate the Kurds from other countries.

In Iran, armed forces spokesman Masoud Jazayeri told reporters Saturday his country would team up with Iraq's central government for military exercises at several crossings in the border region to stem any other potential separatist movements in the region.

"A joint military exercise between Iran's armed forces and units from the Iraqi army will be held in the coming days along the shared border," he said.

Earlier this week, Iraqi soldiers also took part in a joint military exercise with Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Saturday that Iraqi Kurdish authorities would “pay the price” for the independence referendum, which Turkey strongly opposed.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said, "From now on, our relationships with the region will be conducted with the central government, Baghdad. As Iran, Iraq and Turkey, we work to ensure the games being played in the region will fail."

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to impose economic sanctions on the Kurds, but has said any measures it takes would not be aimed at civilians.

Iran on Saturday placed an embargo on all exports and imports of fuel products to and from the Iraqi Kurdistan region, according to Iranian state media.

According to a statement from Iran’s transport ministry published by the Tasnim news agency, all transport companies have been banned from transporting fuel between Iran and the Iraqi Kurdish region “until further notice.”

The increased pressure from surrounding countries comes a day after Iraq imposed a ban on international flights into the region.

Humanitarian workers say the flight cancellations could have a “dire impact” on the lives of the region’s 1.6 million refugees and displaced people.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, center, attends a session of the Iraqi Parliament, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, center, attends a session of the Iraqi Parliament, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, though, in a written statement, said “central government control of air and land ports in the Kurdistan region is not meant to starve, besiege and prevent [the delivery of] supplies to the citizens in the region as alleged by some Kurdistan region officials.”

Calling the vote "unconstitutional," Iraq's parliament on Wednesday also asked Abadi to send troops to the oil-producing, Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of its lucrative oil fields.

It told the 34 countries that have diplomatic missions in Kurdistan to shut them down, and it urged Abadi to enforce a decision to fire Kirkuk Gov. Najmaldin Karim for holding the vote.

The parliament also called for the deployment of forces to areas that were under Iraqi government control before the fall of Mosul to Islamic State more than three years ago.

"We will enforce federal authority in the Kurdistan region, and we already have starting doing that," Abadi said.

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