x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

Kurdish referendum is 'a mistake', says Turkish foreign minister

During a visit to Baghdad, Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Kurdish officials to cancel their planned independence vote

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at a welcome ceremony during the visit of the Turkish president in Amman, Jordan on August 21, 2017. Mr Cavusoglu is expected to hold talks in both Baghdad and Erbil on Wednesday. Khalil Mazraawi / AFP
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at a welcome ceremony during the visit of the Turkish president in Amman, Jordan on August 21, 2017. Mr Cavusoglu is expected to hold talks in both Baghdad and Erbil on Wednesday. Khalil Mazraawi / AFP

Turkey's foreign minister said the upcoming Kurdish independence vote is "a mistake" and urged Iraqi and Kurdish leaders to settle their differences "within the borders of Iraq".

Speaking in Baghdad on Wednesday ahead of his meeting with Kurdistan's regional government (KRG), Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Kurdish officials to cancel their planned independence referendum on September 25.

He stressed that his visit to Baghdad was to underline the importance of Iraq's territorial and political integrity - which in the long run will also be beneficial to the KRG.

"The decision to hold this referendum is a mistake, we have said it before to Iraqi Kurdish leaders and today during my visit to Erbil I will repeat that it is a mistake," Mr Cavusoglu told a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim Al Jaafari.

The referendum is non-binding but goes against the Iraqi constitution. It has faced criticism from Turkey and Iran, which fear it could encourage secession in their own Kurdish regions.

"We hope that all the problems between Baghdad and Erbil will be settled within the borders of Iraq and in the unity and security of Iraqi territory," Mr Cavusoglu said.

"I repeat to Erbil that Kurdistan can enjoy the rights it claims in the borders of a united Iraq," he said, suggesting that Ankara could "play a role" if the two sides wanted it.

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Iraq's central government has rejected the planned vote.

"The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil is determined by the Iraqi constitution and the Kurds cannot act unilaterally,” government spokesperson Saad Al Hadithi said in June.

“Any decision that concerns the future of Iraq must take into consideration the Iraqi constitution as it is an Iraqi decision."

During his visit to Baghdad, Mr Cavusoglu met with Iraqi president Fuad Masum and prime minister Haider Al Abadi.

 

The Turkish foreign minister praised Iraqi officials for their ongoing efforts to liberate the city of Tal Afar from ISIL fighters and confirmed Ankara's continued support for Baghdad. 

He is due to meet the Kurdish president Masoud Barzani in Erbil on the planned referendum. 

Turkey warned Iraq's Kurdish leaders last week of the risk of civil war if they proceed with plans to hold a referendum on independence.

"In a country like Iraq, which has been through so many problems, a referendum on independence … God forbid, it could even bring it to civil war," Mr Cavusoglu told Turkish state broadcaster TRT last week.

In June, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly criticised the referendum plan, calling it "an error" and "a threat" to Iraq's territorial integrity.

The KRG is not only facing pressures from Turkey and Iran to cancel the referendum but also from Washington.

Mr Cavusoglu's visit comes a day after US defence secretary James Mattis arrived unannounced in Baghdad to show American support for Iraqi forces as they pressed an assault on the city of Tal Afar.

Mr Mattis met with Mr Barzani and asked him to postpone the referendum.

Their meeting reflects a wider push that highlights what the Americans fear may produce a new era of political instability as Iraq continues its battle against ISIL.