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Turkey extends mandate to use troops abroad, two days before Kurdish vote

Kurdish delegation in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials in effort to defuse tensions, but senior Kurdish official says vote is going ahead
Statues and flags near Erbil Citadel and park, in capital of autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq on Saturday (AFP)

The Turkish parliament on Saturday approved a one-year extension of a mandate to use troops abroad in Syria and Iraq, two days before Iraq's Kurdish region is due to hold a controversial independence referendum.

The bill was overwhelmingly passed. Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said the extension was intended to protect Turkey from "threats," adding that the Kurdish Regional Government's (KRG) planned vote on Monday was a "threat to national security".

The mandate had been due to run out on 30 October.

Ankara has repeatedly warned Kurdish regional capital Erbil of the "heavy cost" of the poll, while Iraq, Iran and the United States have urged the KRG against the non-binding 25 September vote.

Canikli said the vote demonstrated "an abdication of reason" and Turkey viewed any referendum like this as "null and void".

He added: "We are taking the necessary measures and will continue to do so."

In Iraq, a KRG delegation arrived in Baghdad for talks with the ruling Shia coalition and with Iraq's Kurdish president Fuad Masum, whose role is largely ceremonial, in an effort to defuse tensions, but a senior Kurdish official said the vote was going ahead.

"The delegation will discuss the referendum but the referendum is still happening," Hoshiyar Zebari, a top adviser to Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, told Reuters.

Another Barzani assistant, Hemin Hawrami, tweeted: "Our delegation in Baghdad to deliver a message: We're ready for talks after 25/9."

Earlier, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned Ankara's actions in response to the vote would have "diplomatic, political, economic and security dimensions".

When asked whether a cross-border operation was among the options, Yildirim said "naturally" but "it is a question of timing as to when the security, economic and political options will be applied".

Mandate renewed yearly

The mandate, first approved by parliament in October 2014, has been renewed every year since then.

It allows military action in Turkey's two southern neighbours against Islamic State (IS) group militants and other groups deemed by Ankara to be terror organisations.

Parliament had been due to return from the summer break on 1 October.

Iraq's chief of staff General Othman al-Ghanimi on Saturday met with his Turkish counterpart General Hulusi Akar in Ankara to discuss the "illegitimate" referendum among other issues, the Turkish military said.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Saturday delayed a scheduled news conference on the referendum as international pressure mounts for a postponement.

"If the referendum is not cancelled, there will be serious consequences. Erbil must immediately refrain from this terrible mistake, which will trigger new crises in the region," Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted on Saturday.

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