Turkey in show of force on Iraqi border

Troops and tanks roll in ahead of controversial referendum on Kurdish independence

Turkish tanks
(Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images )

Turkey is flexing its military muscle on the northern Iraqi border in a show of force against next week’s planned vote on Kurdish independence.

Tanks and troops have amassed on the frontier, training rocket launchers towards Iraqi Kurdistan. No prior warning was given and it’s unclear how long the military operation will last.

The drill “reflects the scale of concern in Turkey, which has the largest Kurdish population in the region, that the plebiscite could embolden the outlawed Kurdish PKK which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s southeast,” says Reuters.

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Turkish defence minister Nurettin Canikli warned that next Monday’s referendum could lead to regional conflict and vowed Turkey would take “every step” needed to stop a similar movement north of the border.

His comments were echoed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a speech at the UN General Assembly yesterday.

“New crises in the region, such as bids for independence, could spark new conflicts and must therefore be avoided at all costs,” he said. “We urge Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government to abort the steps they have taken in that direction.”

Iraqi Kurdistan has effectively been a semi-autonomous state, with its own president, prime minister and parliament, since the fall of Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago, but many Kurds believe secession from Iraq is the only way to ensure that their rights will be fully protected.

The central government in Baghdad is fiercely opposed to the vote, as is the region’s non-Kurdish population.

Western powers, meanwhile, have voiced concern that the referendum and any ensuing violence will distract Iraqi and Kurdish forces from the ongoing battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But Kurdish authorities remain defiant and show “no sign” of bowing to international demands and halting the vote, says The Guardian.

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