Turkey, Iran, Iraq move to isolate the Kurdish region of Iraq
Pro-western Iraqi Kurds are disappointed by the lukewarm European response to their overwhelming victory, and can’t be too happy with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement that the U. S. does not recognize their independence referendum.
Turkey, Iran, and Iraq are stepping up their disapproval of the referendum and moving to isolate the Kurdish region of Iraq.
But the Kurds were not entirely happy. They are pro-Western and take great care to publicize their cause and promote their image across European capitals. The tepid response emanating from Europe was a disappointment.
At a polling station set up in the Sabat School (most votes took place in schools and other public buildings), I spoke to Rehaz Azad, a station supervisor. He, too, was disappointed with the EU’s stance on Kurdish independence.
“The EU should accept and support our struggle for independence,” he said. “We suffered a lot — we were the only forces fighting ISIS [untrue but a common refrain across Kurdistan], and we welcomed millions of refugees from central and southern Iraq. We have shown what a good nation we are; the EU should welcome a country like us in the Middle East.”
. . . . [Mala] Bakhtiyar [who heads the executive body of the party’s political bureau] was also keen to look to the future. “We hope that after the vote they will now support us. The Europeans must choose between the democrats of Kurdistan of the dictatorship of Turkey.”
And he was clear on the benefits that an independent Kurdistan can offer the EU. “In Kurdistan we are building a democratic state — this will help the EU. What is better for Europe: For us to become a Pakistan or Afghanistan or a democratic state?”
He continued: “We have proved our Peshmerga army is great. We have proved our worth in fighting terror. We are also rich in natural resources that will be beneficial for the EU. Kurdistan is in a very favorable geopolitical position, bordering Iran, Turkey and Syria, and if it becomes democratic it may well influence its neighbors.”
The Kurdish region is largely secular, which would “benefit a region filled with religious and sectarian states,” he said. “We have a saying here: ‘Democracy for all, religion for individuals.’”
“The European powers supported dictators in the Middle East for 100 years,” he told me, a wry grin spreading across his face. “Maybe now its time for them to experiment with supporting democracy.”
Tillerson released an official State Department statement calling the Kurdish independence vote illegitimate and said that the U. S. does not recognize it.
The United States does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unilateral referendum held on Monday.
The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.
We remain concerned about the potential negative consequences of this unilateral step. Prior to the vote, we worked with both the KRG and the central government in Baghdad to pursue a more productive framework and to promote stability and prosperity for the people of the Kurdistan region. These aspirations, ultimately, cannot be advanced through unilateral measures such as this referendum.
We urge calm and an end to vocal recriminations and threats of reciprocal actions. We urge Iraqi Kurdish authorities to respect the constitutionally-mandated role of the central government and we call upon the central government to reject threats or even allusion to possible use of force. The United States asks all parties, including Iraq’s neighbors, to reject unilateral actions and the use of force.
The fight against ISIS/ Daesh is not over, and extremist groups are seeking to exploit instability and discord. We urge our Iraqi partners to remain focused on defeating ISIS/Daesh.
We encourage all sides to engage constructively in a dialogue to improve the future of all Iraqis.
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims that the Israeli Mossad was responsible for the Kurdish vote, a claim that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shot back at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for saying the Mossad had a hand in the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum last week, saying it was understandable why Hamas supporters see the Mossad in all “uncomfortable situations.”
Erdogan’s Turkey actively supports Hamas.
Speaking before Sunday morning’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that Israel was not involved in the Iraqi Kurdish referendum.
“Regarding recent remarks about Israel and the people in Kurdistan,” Netanyahu said, “I understand why those who support Hamas want to see the Mossad everywhere that is uncomfortable for them, but Israel had no part in the Kurdish referendum, except for the deep, natural sympathy that the people of Israel have had for many years for the Kurdish people and their aspirations.”
Erdogan again went on the warpath against Israel on Saturday, saying that the waving of Israeli flags at celebrations of the Kurdistan vote for independence proved the Mossad’s involvement.
“This shows one thing, that this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together,” he said.
Iran has moved to ban all fuel trade with Kurdistan in retaliation for the vote.
A day after a cut in foreign air links with the region, Iran’s state broadcaster said all transport companies and drivers have been ordered to stop carrying fuel products between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan “until further notice”.
Diesel is one of Iran’s main exports to the Kurdish region, mainly for power plants and vehicles, while the Kurds almost exclusively rely on crude and fuel oil exports to raise revenues for their oil-rich region.
Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in Monday’s non-binding referendum, which has sent regional tensions soaring.
Tehran, which strongly opposes independence for the Iraqi Kurds, fearing it will provoke separatists among its own Kurdish population, also announced a joint military exercise with Iraq in response to the referendum.
Meanwhile, Iraq is moving to take control of Iraqi Kurdish borders. Not only is it imposing a flight ban, but it’s also positioning military to take control of who is permitted to enter and leave the Kurdish area.
The Iraqi military is making preparations Saturday to move in and control Kurdish borders, following a successful independence referendum to make Kurdistan a separate country.
Iraqi troops are now stationed in Turkey and Iran and will reportedly soon start controlling who goes in and who comes out of Kurdish-controlled areas, the Associated Press reports.
That control apparently won’t extend to the Iraqi military moving in on Kurdish-controlled territory, but whether that restraint holds is an open question, which has sparked U.S. worry of an escalating rift between the Iraqis and Kurds, both of whom are U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State. The Kurds have had some level of de facto independence since 1991.
With the looming flight ban, foreign travelers are rushing to exit Iraqi Kurdistan while they still can.
Foreigners scrambled to leave Iraq’s Kurdish region before the start of a flight ban imposed by Baghdad on Friday in retaliation for an independence referendum that has sent regional tensions soaring.
Iraq’s central government ordered a halt to all international flights to and from the autonomous region from 6:00pm, in a move widely seen as Baghdad tightening the screws on the breakaway Kurdish authorities.
The Kurds have condemned the flight suspension as “collective punishment” after 93 per cent of 3.3 million votes cast in the referendum were for Kurdish independence.
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