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Erdogan threatens Kurds with hunger as Turkey and Iraq begin border drills

Turkish president says Kurds 'will be unable to find food' if he stops deliveries into northern Iraq in response to referendum
Turkish troops drill in Silopi as Erdogan threatens to cut Iraqi Kurd supply lines (Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Recep Tayyip Erdogan ramped up the pressure on northern Iraq's Kurdish administration on Tuesday following a referendum on future independence, warning of the risk of starvation for Iraqi Kurds if Turkey stopped allowing foodstuff to cross its borders.

The Turkish president also questioned the numbers reported regarding voter turnout and initial results, calling them "dubious".

Initial data showed more than 80 percent turnout and more than 90 percent in favour of eventual independence in the non-binding vote. Official results are expected on Wednesday.   

They will be unable to find food once the trucks stop going to northern Iraq

- Recep Tayyip Erdogan

In a speech from the presidential palace in Ankara, Erdogan repeated his threat to turn off the taps on the pipeline transporting Iraqi Kurdish oil to international markets and increased the dose by asking how Iraqi Kurds would sustain themselves if Turkey blocked border trade.

"Now when we start implementing sanctions, you will be stuck right there in the middle. It is all over once we turn off the tap," said Erdogan. "They will be unable to find food once the trucks stop going to northern Iraq."

Erdogan also took aim at Israel, the only country to have openly backed the Iraqi Kurdish referendum.

Erdogan said the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan could spark 'ethnic war' (Reuters)

'Barzani the betrayer'

"We have to implement sanctions. What and from where is Israel going to send anything?" he said, and warned the Massoud Barzani government about countries that act provocatively now but will not hang around later.

"Know that flying the Israeli flag there will not save you," said Erdogan.

He also accused Barzani's Kurdistan regional government of betraying Turkey by holding the referendum on independence. He reiterated that Ankara had extended $1.5bn in credit to the Kurdish government so it could pay the salaries of public workers.

"Until the last moment we didn't think Barzani would commit such an error. We were mistaken. This decision at a time when our relations were at their historical best is clearly a betrayal of our country too," he said.

Erdogan also warned that this referendum could have consequences far worse than the bloodshed caused by the Islamic State group.

"There are attempts to push into incidents far more destructive than the Daesh threat. Turkey will not stay quiet in the face of such developments along its borders," said Erdogan.

"We are already in constant talks, particularly with Iran, as three central governments in the region. Our intelligence agencies are working simultaneously."  

Masoud Barzani votes in Kurd referendum (Reuters)

On Monday evening it was announced that Iraqi troops had joined military exercises being conducted by Turkey in the border region of Silopi.

The chief of staff of Iraq's joint forces, Othman al-Ghanimi visited the Turkish chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, in Ankara last week. A three-way meeting involving Iran's chief of staff, Mohammad Bagheri, is also expected this week in Tehran, according to reports.

The Iraqi central government, Turkey and Iran have all dismissed the referendum and its result as illegitimate.

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Turkey is the main gateway to international markets for the landlocked KRG. It ships more than 500,000 barrels of oil daily through Turkish pipelines and tankers to international markets.

Turkey also remains the major supplier of processed and raw foodstuff to the region. Iraq ranks as Turkey's third biggest export market, with northern Iraq taking a major share of Turkish products.

The Turkish government engaged in active behind-the-scenes diplomacy in the run-up to the referendum and tried to convince Barzani to reconsider holding Monday's referendum.

Ankara has since increased its public warnings and threats to the Iraqi Kurdish government.

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