Even as Kurds celebrated the overwhelming approval of an independence referendum, Iraq took actions to punish the would-be breakaway state, vowing to shut down its airspace and join Turkey in holding military exercises.
Calling the vote “unconstitutional,” Iraq’s parliament Wednesday also asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send troops to the oil-producing, Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk and take control of its lucrative oil fields.
It told the 34 countries that have diplomatic missions in Kurdistan to shut them down and urged Abadi to enforce a decision to fire Kirkuk Gov. Najmaldin Karim for holding the vote, and deploy forces to areas that were under Iraqi government control before the fall of Mosul to Islamic State over three years ago.
“We will enforce federal authority in the Kurdistan region, and we already have starting doing that,” Abadi said.
The prime minister’s office said he spoke Thursday by phone with his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim, who said Turkey supports all measures taken by the Iraqi government to preserve the country’s unity, including dealing only with the Baghdad government on oil exports.
The referendum isn't binding, but it is the first step in a process that clearly leads in that direction, despite strong criticism from Iraq, its neighbors — particularly Iran and Turkey — and the United States.
These nations have described it as destabilizing at a time when all sides are still fighting against IS militants.
Turkish troops are conducting military exercises at the Iraqi border, and Iraqi soldiers joined in four kilometers from the Habur border gate between the two countries. National and international media observed the exercises from the main highway leading to the border gate.
Turkey, which has its own restive Kurdish minority, is particularly concerned about the independence movement sweeping into its territory. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that all military and economic measures are on the table against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), calling the decision to go ahead with the vote a “betrayal to Turkey.”