Turkey Ratchet Up Its Rhetoric against Barzani Over Independence Referendum

Turkey Ratchet Up Its Rhetoric against Barzani Over Independence Referendum

Turkey knows how to speak the language Masoud Barzani will understand if he does not cancel a planned independence referendum, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday (September 23).

Speaking in Anatolian city of Kirsehir, Yildirim criticized Barzani's "fixation with independence" and warned of consequences.

His latest remarks came as the Turkish army launched a highly visible military drill near the Habur border crossing to Iraq. Military sources said the drill was reinforced with additional troops on Saturday. The military exercises were due to last until Sept. 26, a day after the planned referendum.

Home to the largest Kurdish population in the region and fighting a Kurdish insurgency, Turkey has warned that steps in response to the referendum will have security, diplomatic, political and economic dimensions.

Turkey has for years been northern Iraq's main link to the outside world. It has built strong trade ties with the semi-autonomous region, which exports hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day through Turkey to international markets.

Barzani said on Friday (September 22) that Kurds were ready "to pay any price for freedom", thereby rejecting international pressure to call off the referendum on independence planned for Monday (Sept. 25) in northern Iraq.

Turkey, the United States and other Western powers have advised Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region to cancel the vote, worrying that tensions between Baghdad and Erbil would distract from the war on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.