Turkey, Iran, Iraq join forces to thwart Kurdish referendum

Iraqi Kurdish peshmergas take part in a gathering to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 20, 2017. (AFP / SAFIN HAMED)
Updated 22 September 2017
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Turkey, Iran, Iraq join forces to thwart Kurdish referendum

ANKARA: Turkey, Iran and Iraq on Thursday warned of possible countermeasures against the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) if it goes ahead with its independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan.
The foreign ministers of the three countries issued a joint statement underlying their concerns that the referendum, scheduled for Sept. 25, could trigger regional conflicts.
“The three ministers emphasized that the referendum will not be beneficial for the Kurds and the KRG, and agreed, in this regard, to consider taking countermeasures in coordination,” the statement read, without elaborating on the measures.
The statement urged the international community to intervene, reiterated the ministers’ commitment to maintaining Iraq’s territorial and political unity, and described the referendum as unconstitutional.
Turkey has the largest Kurdish population in the region, and Ankara — which said the vote would be a “grave mistake” — worries that it could boost separatist sentiment among Turkish Kurds.
Considered a terror organization by Turkey, the US and EU, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been conducting an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
As a show of force, Turkey moved tanks and troops to its southern border with Iraq ahead of the vote, with rocket launchers affixed on armored vehicles directed at the frontier.
Turkey’s Habur border crossing is economically vital for the KRG, as it is the main passageway for cross-border trade for landlocked Iraqi Kurdistan.
Trade between Turkey and KRG reached $8.5 billion last year, and there are about 1,300 Turkish companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey is also a key buyer of oil and natural gas from the KRG.
Ahmad Majidyar, resident fellow and director of the IranObserved project at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the joint statement means to send a strong signal to the US and European powers that if they do not stop the referendum, the consequences will be dire.
“Both Turkey and Iran have threatened retaliatory measures, including border closures and economic sanctions, if the KRG goes ahead with the referendum. But it’s too soon to determine if their tough rhetoric will translate into action,” Majidyar told Arab News.
But despite recent steps by Tehran and Ankara to reconcile their differences and cooperate more on regional issues, there is deep distrust between them, he added.
“Turkey, for example, wouldn’t want to cut all relations with the KRG and allow Iran and other regional countries to fill the void,” he said.
Although Ankara has legitimate fears about the referendum, Majidyar said it has to consider both its strategic and economic interests, as Iraqi Kurdistan exports more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day via Turkey to the Mediterranean.
“Irbil and Ankara have also had close military cooperation, and Turkey has military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan,” he added.
“It’s unlikely that Ankara will sever all relations with the KRG, even if the latter proceeds with the referendum next week.”
Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Ankara-based think tank ANKASAM, told Arab News that the joint statement is an ultimatum to the KRG, and shows its three neighbors’ determination to coordinate against a perceived common threat.
Gulriz Sen, an Iran expert at TOBB University in Ankara, said the statement demonstrates a strong alignment of interests in opposing Kurdish demands and aspirations for independence.
“Even though maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq has always been a common objective for Turkey and Iran, regional geopolitics so far have drawn Turkey and Iran apart by deepening their rivalry in the Syrian and Iraqi crises,” Sen told Arab News.
“This statement once again shows their mutual stance vis-a-vis the Kurdish issue. There were already hints of possible cooperation and coordination with the high-level visit of Iran’s chief of staff, Gen. Mohammad Bagheri.”
Sen said the three countries seem united in exerting military and economic pressure on the KRG, as shown by Turkey’s recent military drill at the Iraqi border.
Turkey’s National Security Council and Cabinet will convene on Friday to announce what countermeasures will be taken if the referendum goes ahead.


Turkey to lift state of emergency after two-year purge

Updated 18 July 2018
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Turkey to lift state of emergency after two-year purge

  • The state of emergency, which normally lasts three months, was extended seven times
  • During last month’s presidential election campaign, which he won, Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged that the state of emergency would end

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s state of emergency which was imposed after the failed 2016 coup is to end Wednesday but the opposition fears it will be replaced by even more repressive legislative measures.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the state of emergency on July 20, 2016, five days after warplanes bombed Ankara and bloody clashes broke out in Istanbul in a doomed putsch bid that claimed 249 lives.
The measure, which normally lasts three months but was extended seven times, has seen the detention of some 80,000 people and about double that number sacked from jobs in public institutions.
The biggest purge of Turkey’s modern history has targeted not just alleged supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher blamed for the coup, but also Kurdish activists and leftists.
The former leaders of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas — are still languishing in jail following their arrest in November 2016 on charges of links to Kurdish militants.
During last month’s presidential election campaign, which he won, Erdogan pledged that the state of emergency would end.
And it will — at 1:00 am on Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday), simply by virtue of the government not asking that it be extended.
But the opposition has been angered by the government’s submission of new legislation to parliament that apparently seeks to formalize some of the harshest aspects of the emergency.
The bill, dubbed “anti-terror” legislation by pro-government media, will be discussed at commission level on Thursday and then in plenary session on Monday.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said the new measures would amount to a state of emergency on their own.
“With this bill, with the measures in this text, the state of emergency will not be extended for three months, but for three years,” said the head of the CHP’s parliamentary faction, Ozgur Ozel.
“They make it look like they are lifting the emergency but in fact they are continuing it,” he added.
Under the proposed legislation, the authorities will retain for three more years the power to sack civil servants deemed linked to “terror” groups, retaining a key power of the state of emergency.
Protests and gatherings will be banned in open public areas after sunset, although they can be authorized until midnight if they do not disturb the public order.
Local authorities will be able to prohibit individuals from entering or leaving a defined area for 15 days on security grounds.
And suspect can be held without charge for 48 hours or up to four days in the case of multiple offenses.
This period can be extended up to twice if there is difficulty in collecting evidence or if the case is deemed to be particularly voluminous.
The authorities have also shown no hesitation in using the special powers of the emergency — right up to its final days.
Following a decree issued on July 8, 18,632 people were sacked — 8,998 of them police officers — over suspected links to terror organizations and groups that “act against national security.”
The move came just two weeks after Erdogan was reelected under a new system that gives him greater powers than any Turkish leader since the aftermath of World War II.
The new executive presidency means government ministries and public institutions are now centralized under the direct control of the presidency.
Erdogan says it is necessary to have a more efficient government but the opposition claims it has placed Turkey squarely under one-man rule.
“The end of the state of emergency does not mean our fight against terror is going to come to an end,” said Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.