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Turkey steps up pressure against Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum
Last Updated: 2017-09-18 01:32 | Xinhua
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Iraqi Kurds holds a large Kurdish flag as they walk near the citadel towards a gathering urging people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 13, 2017. (AFP Photo)

Turkey has brought forward two critical meetings ahead of the controversial independence referendum in theIraqi Kurdistan region, following renewed calls on the Kurdish leadership to postpone the vote.

"We will announce our plan regarding the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) referendum after the National Security Council (MGK) meeting on Sept. 22," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced late Friday, adding that another cabinet meeting would be held before the MGK meeting.

Erdogan stressed that Turkey who shares a long border with northern Iraq would not allow steps which will threaten Iraq's territorial integrity.

A few hours before his televised speech, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim implied that Turkey would impose sanctions on the KRG if it proceeded with the independence referendum.

"We do not want to impose sanctions. But if we arrive at that point, there are steps that have already been planned that Turkey can take," he told reporters in Ankara, adding that he was making a "friendly appeal" to the KRG leader Massoud Barzani to cancel the planned vote.

Yildirim and his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi talked over the phone on Friday, in which the two agreed to work together to stop the referendum. Yildirim also made it clear during the weekend that the vote was a matter of national security and Turkey would take any necessary steps to prevent it.

The Iraqi leader said on Saturday that he was prepared to intervene militarily if the referendum resulted in violence between different ethnic groups of the region, describing the vote as "illegal."

The Kurdistan regional parliament voted on Friday to continue with the referendum slated for Sept. 25. Earlier in the day, Barzani said the vote would go ahead because no viable alternative had been presented, hinting a rejection to a proposal from theUnited States, Britain, and UN to postpone the vote.

Iraq's neighbors and many western countries are lobbying for a delay of the referendum because they see the referendum as potentially damaging to the ongoing fight against the Islamic State (IS), which is still active in the region despite suffering serious defeats.

Western powers fear the vote will destabilize an already volatile region, as Iraq's neighborsIran,Syriaand Turkey oppose the vote because an overwhelming "yes" would fuel independence calls in their sizable Kurdish minority communities.

Some experts feel that an immediate declaration of independence is unlikely to happen even if most Kurds vote "yes" and that Turkey's possible sanctions on the KRG will only be temporary, as the two sides have shared commercial interests.

Turkey and the Kurdish region have witnessed an expanding trade tie between the two sides. In the first half of 2017, the mutual business has reached 5 billion U.S. dollars, a 20 percent increase compared with the year before, according to Kurdish data.

"I think that a Turkish military intervention is out of the questions because Turkey also has to deal with the Syrian war at the border. Ankara could decide to close (the only) Habur border gate and to reduce traffic to the zone, but at the end of the road they have major common commercial interests," said veteran Kurdish journalist Mahmut Bozarslan.

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