Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that he will discuss with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a controversial plan in the Arab country’s autonomous Kurdistan region for holding a referendum of independence on September 25.
“We will have a meeting with Mr Abadi in the United States, and from what we can see our goal is the same. Our goal is not dividing Iraq,” said Erdogan on Sunday before departing for New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly where he would meet the Iraqi leader.
Erdogan, who has on several occasions called on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to postpone the referendum, said Ankara and Baghdad shared the same view regarding the vote.
He said Turkey would announce its official position on the referendum after September 22 when the Turkish government holds national security council and cabinet meetings before the usual schedule. That comes after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Kurdistan’s referendum of independence was now an issue of national security for Turkey and the country would take any necessary steps.
KRG leader Massoud Barzani has ignored increasing international calls for scrapping or delaying the vote and said on Friday that the referendum would go ahead as planned. Erdogan then criticized Barzani and said the decision to not postpone the vote was “very wrong.”
Turkey is home to the largest population of Kurds, an estimated 20 million people, and authorities fear the formation of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq would provoke similar separatist sentiments along Turkey’s southern border, where Kurds mostly live.
The KRG and Turkey have maintained warm relations over the past years and that has come against the backdrop of tensions between Ankara and Baghdad. The Iraqi government has on several occasions lambasted Turkey for allowing the KRG to sell its oil via the country to the world markets.
The regional and international powers have expressed concern that Kurdistan’s planned referendum could distract an ongoing fight in Iraq and neighboring Syria, also home to a population of Kurds, against terrorism. Western powers, including the US, have called on the KRG to engage in dialogue with the central Iraqi government to settle old disputes.