Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during his visit to the United States this week and discuss their concerns about northern Iraq’s independence referendum. 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.
With the largest Kurdish population in the region, Turkey also fears that a “Yes” vote would fuel separatism in its southeast, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants have waged an insurgency for three decades.
Despite the requests and concerns, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani had said on Friday that the referendum would go ahead as planned on Sept. 25. Speaking to reporters on Sunday before departing for New York to attend the UN General Assembly, Erdogan said Ankara and Baghdad shared the same view regarding the referendum.
“We will have a meeting with Mr Abadi in the United States, and from what we can see our goal is the same. Our goal is not dividing Iraq,” said Erdogan, who earlier said that Barzani’s decision to not postpone the vote was “very wrong”.
Late on Saturday Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said northern Iraq’s referendum was an issue of national security and Turkey would take any necessary steps. With Barzani pressing on with the referendum, Erdogan said the Turkish government had brought forward planned national security council and cabinet meetings to Sept. 22 and that Turkey would announce its position on the referendum afterwards.
Turkey has, however, built good relations with Barzani’s administration, founded on strong economic links as well as Ankara and Erbil’s shared suspicions of other Kurdish groups and Iraq’s central government.
The Kurdish Regional Government, led by Barzani’s KDP party, exports hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil every day to world markets via Turkey. Iraqi President Fuad Masum on Sunday called on the country’s leading politicians to start urgent dialogue to defuse tensions linked to the referendum plans. Masum, a Kurd, holds a largely ceremonial position under the Iraqi federal power-sharing regime, which concentrates executive powers in the hands of the prime minister, a Shi’ite.