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Turkish army drills near Iraqi border ahead of Kurdish referendum

Turkey has long feared an independent Kurdish state would provoke separatism among its own Kurdish minority
Turkish Abrams tanks near the Iraqi border on 18 September, 2017 (Reuters)

Turkish armed forces started a military drill at the Iraqi border on Monday, the army said, a week ahead of a referendum on Kurdish independence in northern Iraq which Turkey has asked to be called off.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the planned 25 September referendum was an issue of national security, and warned that Turkey would take any necessary steps in response.

Turkey, the United States and other Western powers have advised authorities in the semi-autonomous region to cancel the vote, worrying that it would create tensions that would distract from the war on the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

With the largest Kurdish population in the region, Turkey also fears that a "Yes" vote would fuel separatism in its southeast, where militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have waged an insurgency for three decades.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he will meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi this week to discuss their concerns about the referendum.

In a statement, the military said its operations targeting militant groups in the Iraq border region would continue at the same time as the drill.

The autonomous region's economy is heavily dependent on oil exports via a pipeline running through Turkey to the Mediterranean.

Israel is alone in openly supporting Kurdish independence.

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