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Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum potential reason for war: Turkish nationalist leader

The leader of Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, speaks during a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Ankara on August 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A far-right nationalist leader in Turkey has expressed deep worries about the Iraqi Kurds’ plans for an independence referendum later this year, saying the move could provide a reason for Ankara to launch a war on the autonomous Iraqi region.

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said Thursday that Ankara should oppose plans by the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, to hold the referendum in September, adding that the move could ignite turbulence in Turkey’s southeast, which is populated by millions of Kurds.

“This is a rehearsal for Kurdistan. If necessary Turkey should deem this referendum as a reason for war,” said Bahceli, adding, “A position must be taken to the end against Barzani's preparation for an independence referendum which incorporates Turkmen cities.”

The comments came a day after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met Barzani in Iraq to express Ankara’s serious concerns about the September 25 vote on Kurdish independence. Cavusoglu also conveyed Turkey's opposition to the Kurdish independence vote, which would also include cities populated by Turkmens, an ethnic group which has historical and cultural ties with Turkey. 

The leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, (L) receives Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on August 23, 2017 in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. (Photo by AFP)

The central government in Baghdad is opposed to the vote and regional players like Iran and Turkey have also expressed concerns about the planned referendum by Iraqi Kurdish authorities, arguing it could create further instability in the region.

Turkey’s fierce opposition to the idea of an independent Kurdistan comes amid a large-scale military crackdown against suspected militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has left thousands dead since it started two years ago.

The PKK, also blacklisted in the West, has fought the Turkish government for more than three decades; an insurgency that Ankara says is mostly originated from mountainous regions in northern Iraq.

More than 15 million Kurds live in Turkey, most of them in areas bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria in the south.

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