Turkey urges Iraqi Kurds to drop referendum, cites sanctions

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey appealed to northern Iraq’s Kurdish region on Friday to drop plans for an independence referendum, saying it would threaten security and force Ankara to slap sanctions on a neighbor and trading partner.

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Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag told a news conference that “all options were on the table” regarding its response to the referendum, although he stopped short of giving details on what sanctions could entail.

“It is not possible for us to accept the postponing of the referendum either. We demand a total cancellation, so that we won’t have to impose sanctions,” Bozdag told reporters.

Bozdag’s comments followed back-to-back meetings of Turkey’s cabinet and National Security Council, both of which were chaired by President Tayyip Erdogan. The president has also said parliament will convene on Saturday to discuss the response to the referendum.

Earlier, the council called on the president of the northern Iraqi Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, to stop the referendum.

The council said Turkey retained the rights defined in bilateral and international agreements if the vote were held. It did not elaborate on the nature of those rights.

Turkey, home to the largest Kurdish population in the region and fighting a Kurdish insurgency, has warned that any breakup of neighboring Iraq or Syria could lead to a global conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the referendum was a matter of national security for the country and Ankara would never accept a change of status in Iraq or Syria.

“An action that will change the status in Syria and Iraq is an unacceptable result for Turkey, and we will do what is necessary,” Yildirim said.

Erdogan has threatened to impose sanctions against Kurdish northern Iraq.

On Monday, the Turkish army launched a highly visible military drill near the Habur border crossing, which military sources said was due to last until Sept. 26, a day after the planned referendum.

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.

Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Dirimcan Barut; Editing by David Dolan and Rosalba O’Brien