Turkey sees central government in Iraq as only legitimate authority


As a step against the KRG's work for independence, Ankara says Turkey will only deal with the central government in Baghdad

Turkey will continue to maintain ties with Iraq through the country's central government in the wake of Baghdad's demand that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) hand over control of its border gates and airports, Ankara said Thursday.

Speaking in the central province of Çorum yesterday regarding the steps Turkey will take in the wake of the KRG independence referendum, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said: "Regarding this issue, concrete steps will be taken. The person representing the KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party] for Turkey is now in northern Iraq and we have informed him not to come back. Moving forward, Turkey will deal with Baghdad, particularly regarding the parameters of the decision of Iraq's parliament to seize control of the border gates and airports in Iraqi Kurdistan," Yıldırım said, adding that oil transfers are also included in this decision. Ankara told Baghdad that it agreed to deal only with the central government regarding crude oil exports, the Iraqi Prime Minister's office said Thursday.

In a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Yıldırım, "confirmed the support of his country regarding all decisions" taken or sought by the Iraqi government in the wake of the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday, Abadi's office said in a statement.The Iraqi central government said Tuesday that Baghdad is giving the KRG three days to hand over control of its airports to avoid an international air embargo - a deadine that ends by the day's end today.

Turkey's oil exports from Iraq last year were recorded at 9.2 million tons, according to a report by the Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EMRA) energy watchdog. This figure corresponds to 23 percent of Turkey's total oil exports, which were 40 million tons in 2016.

The Bloomberg cargo tracking system has shown that oil shipments have averaged 583,600 barrels per day so far this year.

According to data compiled by Turkey's state-run Petroleum Pipeline Company (BOTAŞ), the amount of crude oil distributed to international markets from the Iraq-Turkey pipeline, known as the Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, increased by 300 percent in 2015, reaching 192,426,000 barrels.

In May 2014, Iraq filed for arbitration against Turkey to stop exports of oil from the KRG after European markets bought the first load of oil transferred from the autonomous region.

The request was filed with the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce and also targets BOTAŞ for its role in facilitating oil exports from the semi-autonomous KRG without the involvement of the Iraqi central government.

Bilateral ties between Ankara and Baghdad have gained momentum recently, despite previous tensions caused by a number of disagreements, including the positioning of Turkish troops in Iraq's Bashiqa camp. Although the KRG enjoyed strong relations with Ankara, Irbil's bid for independence has led to the reconciliation of ties between Ankara and Baghdad.

The KRG, led by Masoud Barzani, held a controversial independence referendum Monday, despite widespread criticism from regional powers, including Turkey and Iran, the Iraqi central government, the U.S., the U.K. and the EU. Leaders who oppose the KRG referendum argue that Iraq's territorial integrity must be protected and focus should be honed on the fight against Daesh, arguing that an Iraqi Kurdistan would compromise the stability of a unified Iraq and bring further chaos and conflict to a region already reeling from instability, civil war and political turmoil. The only country supporting the KRG vote has been Israel.

Turkey, Iran and the Iraqi central government have been in close dialogue regarding the referendum and measures taken against Irbil.

Prime Minister Yıldırım also held a phone call with Iran's Vice President Eshaq Jahangari Kouhshahi regarding the KRG referendum.

Yıldırım said that discussions have been held regarding the steps to be taken against Irbil, highlighting the synchronization in opinions between Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad.

Turkey-Iraq joint military exercise enters 3rd phase

Meanwhile, the joint maneuver launched by Turkey and Iraq that began on Sept. 18 in the town of Silopi in Turkey's Şırnak region near the Habur border gate is entering its 11th day.

Beginning its third phase with the inclusion of Iraqi soldiers on Wednesday, Iraqi and Turkish soldiers took positions and conducted an attack maneuver on certain target areas.

The joint maneuver was announced on Monday by Iraqi Defense Minister Erfan al-Hiyali, following the recent independence referendum of the KRG.

Military exercises started a week before the KRG referendum in Şırnak's Silopi, located in close proximity to the border gate between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to an announcement from the Turkish Armed Forces' (TSK) announcement on Saturday, the level of military drills being conducted near the Turkish-Iraqi border for the past six days has increased.

The TSK also said the second stage of drills will also be held while the maneuver continues with additional troops.

In an emergency meeting held Saturday in Ankara, the Turkish Parliament extended a previously issued mandate that allows military operations in Syria and Iraq to continue until Oct. 30, 2018.

The mandate was due to expire next month and has been renewed in Parliament since it was initially issued in 2014. The decree allows Turkey to conduct military operations across its southern border by sending troops to the region to prevent possible threats to its national security posed from neighboring Iraq and Syria.

The mandate, read in Parliament on Saturday, lists national security requirements including the counterterror fight against the PKK and Daesh in Syria and Iraq. It also emphasizes the importance of Iraq's territorial integrity, saying that "separatism based on ethnicity" poses a threat to stability in Turkey and the entire region.

Foreign airlines halt

flights to KRG

Iraqi lawmakers passed a resolution previously, calling on Abadi to "take all necessary measures to maintain Iraq's unity" including the deployment of security forces to disputed areas. The resolution also called for the closure of border posts with Turkey and Iran that are outside of the control of the Iraqi central government.

Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon said Wednesday they will halt flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan this week until further notice, at the request of Baghdad. Qatar yesterday joined the list of countries that will be suspending flights to the KRG semi-autonomous region.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning Wednesday for the KRG cities of Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah, citing rising tensions in the wake of the controversial Iraqi-Kurdish referendum held on Monday.

In a statement, the Ministry said citizens should leave the cities as soon as possible if they are not obliged to stay, coming on the heels of a previous statement indicating that the Ministry will take "all measures" under international law if the referendum causes a threat to Turkey's national security.

The warning comes after the Turkish consulate in Irbil announced that flights from Turkey to northern Iraq would be suspended as of 6 p.m. local time on Friday.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the consulate said that Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority had announced the suspension of flights to and from Irbil, the administrative capital of northern Iraq's Kurdish region, as well as Sulaymaniyah, as of Sept. 29.

"In this case, it will not be possible for Turkish Airlines [THY], AtlasGlobal or Pegasus [Airlines] to conduct mutual flights from our country to Irbil or Sulaymaniyah" as of Sept. 29, the statement read.

Meanwhile, a judiciary process is about to commence regarding the individuals responsible for the referendum. Iraq's High Judicial Council spokesman Abdussettar Bayraktar made a written statement on Thursday, saying the judiciary has launched judicial processes against those responsible for the holding of the KRG's independence referendum, which was conducted in spite of a federal court decision given at the direction of the council's decision.

On Sept. 18, the Iraqi Federal Court decided to stop the KRG referendum saying it was "unconstitutional."

'KRG wants to send delegation to Turkey to mend ties'

An official from the ruling KDP and former minister of the KRG said the KRG wants to send a delegation to Turkey to mend strained ties in the wake of its controversial independence referendum held on Monday.

KDP Foreign Relations Coordinator Hoshyar Siwaily told the Turkish BBC that they hope relations between the KRG and Turkey return to their pre-referendum status.

"We share both economic and political interests with Turkey and our history proves how much we have gained from this cooperation," Siwaily said.

The Kurdish official said the KRG has great expectations from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, adding that Irbil is ready to discuss solutions to give Kirkuk, the heart of the region's Iraqi-Turkmen community, special status and autonomy.

'Fire will burn those responsible for it'

Touching on the KRG issue during a speech in Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday that the conflict that will emerge from the KRG's independence aims will eventually trouble Irbil itself.

"God willing, this fire will not touch us, as other fires in the region have not. However, this will torment somebody's life," Erdoğan said, adding that Irbil has become "the voluntary soldiers of those only concerned with their own interests."

"We hope for the well-being of our friends and brothers. If we are giving a strong reaction to the developments in northern Iraq, the only reason is because we are focused on the well-being of the Arabs, Turkmens and others, particularly the Kurds," Erdoğan emphasized, adding that the results of the KRG's aim of separation will not benefit anyone.

Meanwhile, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spokesman Mahir Ünal said Turkey's stance regarding recent developments in the region following the KRG's independence referendum has no relation to the Kurdish population and it does not target them.

Stressing that the referendum would not contribute to the peace of the Kurdish people, Ünal said the referendum is a step aimed by some at redrawing the borders in the region, adding: "We will not allow those who have been trying to change the borders and create conflict zones to be successful," while speaking in a televised interview yesterday.

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