Erdogan warns Iraqi Kurds will lose “opportunities” if independence vote proceeds

By bne IntelliNews September 20, 2017

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the Iraqi Kurds that it is in their interests to call off their planned September 25 independence referendum because it “may lead to a process that shall deprive the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government of even the opportunities it currently enjoys."

Erdogan, who made the comment while addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on September 19, was plainly referring mostly to oil and gas export opportunities which Turkey has facilitated, or may facilitate in the future, for the hydrocarbon-rich Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), partly by allowing the laying of pipelines.

Turkey, which is conducting menacing military manoeuvres with tanks near the Iraqi border in a bid to intimidate the Kurds, would, for instance, have to cooperate to allow Russia’s Rosneft to go ahead with a 30bn cubic metre (bcm)/yr pipeline that, under newly announced plans, would from 2020 deliver natural gas supplies from the Iraqi Kurdistan region to Turkey and Europe.

Erdogan warned in his address that the referendum risks sparking a fresh conflict in the Middle East and Turkish defence minister Nurettin Canikli was almost simultaneously quoted by news agencies as explicitly cautioning that a violation of Iraq's territorial integrity would represent a major risk for Turkey. "The disruption of Syria and Iraq's territorial integrity will ignite a bigger, global conflict with an unseen end," Reuters reported him as saying.

Almost all UN member states oppose the referendum in the oil-rich region, including the US and Iran. However, Russia, the only major power that has not called for the referendum to be called off, has recognised the Kurds’s aspirations for a homeland while at the same time respecting the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Russian companies have in less than a year pledged more than $4bn to finance Kurdish oil and gas deals. US companies were previously most prominent in striking such deals with the Kurds, but with Baghdad slow to push to authorise contracts they have very much withdrawn from the picture, handing some oil blocs back to the KRG. 

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