Ankara has reiterated its opposition regarding an independence referendum to be held in Iraqi Kurdistan, arguing that Iraq's territorial integrity must be protected to avoid further turmoil in the region. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday criticized the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) decision to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25, saying that it has deeply saddened Ankara. Speaking at the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) group meeting in Parliament, Erdoğan said: "Stepping on northern Iraq's independence is a threat to Iraq's territorial integrity and it is wrong. We wish this step would have been taken through consultation. We have always been in favor of Iraq's territorial integrity."
Iraqi Kurdistan, with a population of about 5 million, already enjoys a high degree of autonomy with its own parliament and armed forces, the Peshmerga. However, relations with the central government in Baghdad have nosedived in recent years, over a range of issues including the sharing of oil revenues and the control of some areas that are technically part of Iraq but have come under Kurdish control since 2014 in the war against Daesh.
"In this critical period, taking such a step does not benefit anyone," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan added. KRG President Masoud Barzani announced the decision to hold a referendum on June 7 on his official Twitter account. In addition, a tweet from Hamin Hawrami, a senior presidential advisor, said: "Big news. Kurdistan referendum for independence is on September 25, 2017."
Speaking at a press conference Monday after a Cabinet meeting, Turkish government spokesman and deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said that the KRG should reconsider its decision, adding that the proposed referendum would only intensify current instability.
Last week, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım called the move "iirresponsible" while the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement calling it a "grave mistake."
The U.S., the U.K., Germany and the Iraqi central government have also criticized the KRG's announcement for the referendum on independence.
In a statement published on Monday, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the move "will distract from the more urgent priorities of defeating Daesh, stabilizing liberated areas and addressing the long-term political issues that led to Daesh's rise."
"Any referendum or political process towards independence must be agreed upon with the government of Iraq in Baghdad. Unilateral moves towards independence would not be in the interests of the people of Iraq, the Kurdistan region, or the wider regional stability," the statement added.
Baghdad responded to news of the referendum in its most recent statement saying, "We reject Irbil's one-sided step towards independence."
On Friday, Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said that the move could not be made single-handedly.
On Thursday of last week, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the KRG's ambitions were understood but called the issue an internal one affecting the Iraqi people, adding that the U.S. supports "a unified, stable and democratic Iraq."
Berlin also voiced its concerns over the independence vote, saying the decision could further increase tensions in Iraq.
"We can only warn against one-sided steps on this issue. The unity of Iraq is on the line," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.
Neighboring Iran, which is a strong supporter of the Shiite central government in Iraq, also voiced that it opposes Irbil's decision over the weekend. "Iran's primary position is to support the territorial integrity of Iraq," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Saturday, as quoted in the Agence France-Presse (AFP).