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Iraq breakup will lead to global conflict: Turkish minister

Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli (File photo)

Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli has reiterated Ankara’s opposition to a planned Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq, warning that disintegration of Iraq will lead to a global conflict.

During a Tuesday speech in Ankara, Canikli described the planned referendum as a major risk for his country and underlined Turkey’s determination to take "every step" to thwart any similar measure in its southeast Kurdish areas.

“A change that will mean the violation of Iraq's territorial integrity poses a major risk for Turkey," Canikli said.

"The disruption of Syria and Iraq's territorial integrity will ignite a bigger, global conflict with an unseen end," he added.

The Iraqi Kurds plan to hold the plebiscite on September 25 in three provinces that make up their region, as well as in disputed areas that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad, including the oil-rich Kirkuk Province.

Canikli’s remarks come a day after Turkey launched a military exercise without warning across its southern border with Iraq which is scheduled to last until September 26, a day after the planned referendum.

On Tuesday, Turkish troops turned their weapons towards Kurdish-run northern Iraq, with tanks and rocket launchers mounted on armored vehicles facing the Iraqi frontier, Reuters reported.

Iraqi Kurds wave Kurdish flags in Arbil on September 13, 2017 ahead of their planned independence referendum. (AFP photo)

Turkey, which has the largest Kurdish population, has robust economic ties to Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). The standoff has weakened the Turkish lira beyond 3.5 to the dollar for the first time in four weeks.

The Turkish cabinet and Turkish national security council have scheduled meetings on Friday to consider possible action.

Baghdad has slammed the upcoming vote as unconstitutional, calling on the Kurdish leadership to drop the plan.

On Monday, Iraq’s top court temporarily suspended the Kurdish independence referendum, saying it “issued a national order to suspend the referendum procedures ... until the resolution of the cases regarding the constitutionality of said decision.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also formally asked the Kurdish officials to halt the process.

Last week, Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers approved holding the secession vote in the face of fierce opposition from the central government in Baghdad.

The United Nations and the US as well as regional powers like Iran and Turkey have also expressed concerns about the planned referendum by the semi-autonomous KRG, arguing that it could create further instability in the already volatile region.

The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, said once again late Monday that he would proceed with the referendum despite warnings at home and abroad.

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