ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey said on Thursday it had stopped training peshmerga forces in northern Iraq in response to a Kurdish independence vote there, whose backers had thrown themselves “into the fire”.
The Kurdish peshmerga have been at the forefront of the campaign against Islamic State and been trained by NATO-member Turkey’s military since late 2014.
Northern Iraq’s main link to the outside world, Turkey views Monday’s vote - which final results on Wednesday showed overwhelming in favour of independence from Baghdad - as a clear security threat.
Fearing it will inflame separatism among its own Kurds, Ankara had already threatened military and economic measures in retaliation. Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag reiterated on Thursday any such actions would be coordinated with the Iraqi central government.
Bozdag, also a deputy prime minister, told broadcaster TGRT in an interview that more steps would follow the peshmerga decision and that the prime ministers of Turkey and Iraq would meet soon.
Turkey, which is home to the region’s largest Kurdish population, is battling a three-decade Kurdish insurgency in its southeast, which borders northern Iraq.
President Tayyip Erdogan said it was inevitable that the referendum “adventure” in northern Iraq, carried out despite Turkey’s warnings, would end in disappointment.
“With its independence initiative, the northern Iraq regional government has thrown itself into the fire,” he said in a speech to police officers at his palace in Ankara.
Earlier this week, Erdogan said Iraqi Kurds would go hungry if his country halted the flow of trucks and oil across the border, near where Turkish and Iraqi soldiers have been carrying out military exercises this week.
Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day flow through a pipeline in Turkey from northern Iraq, connecting the region to global oil markets.
Erdogan has repeatedly threatened economic sanctions, but has given few details.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey would not shy away from giving the harshest response to a national security threat on its border, but that this was not its first choice.
Speaking in the central Turkish province of Corum, Yildirim said Turkey, Iran and Iraq were doing their best to overcome the crisis caused by the referendum with the minimum damage.
Iraq, including the Kurdish region, was Turkey’s third-largest export market in 2016, according to IMF data. Turkish exports to the country totalled $8.6 billion, behind Germany and Britain.
Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay, Ercan Gurses and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and John Stonestreet