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Turkey and Iran unite over Kurdish cause

President Erdogan of Turkey intends to stop Iraq's Kurds from declaring independence — by turning off the oil tap if necessary

TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Tehran on Wednesday for talks that were to include a focus on blocking efforts by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to break away from the rest of Iraq following its controversial 25 September independence referendum.

Erdogan was set to meet top Iranian political and military leaders, including Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The trip came after Erdogan threatened further sanctions against autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, which Ankara and Tehran accuse of destabilising the broader region by pressing ahead with independence efforts.

Landlocked Kurdistan depends on Turkey and Iran for almost all its foreign trade.

Turkey, which controls Kurdish oil exports through its territory, has the power to cut off the KRG’s main financial lifeline if it breaks from the rest of Iraq.

Erdogan said he was considering further punitive measures unless Kurdish leaders abandoned their independence push.

"We are managing with some embargoes in northern Iraq for now, but if they don't come to their senses this will continue increasing," Erdogan said.

"Any incident taking place in Syria and Iraq is not independent of us, they are linked directly to our domestic affairs."

The Kurdish referendum was "a new attempt to strike the heart of our region with a dagger".

Erdogan’s remarks came after the KRG announced presidential and parliamentary elections for 1 November as the region moved to capitalise on the referendum vote that delivered overwhelming support for independence.

The November elections are not for an independent state but intended to reinforce the legitimacy of the Kurdish leadership before a drive for outright independence from the rest of Iraq.

Massoud Barzani has held the KRG presidency since its establishment in 2005. Barzani’s tenure was extended beyond his second term in 2013 as fresh turmoil engulfed the region and Islamic State overran much of northern Iraq the following year.

It is unclear whether Barzani will stand in the November poll as Kurdish law says a president cannot stay in office for more than two terms.

Baghdad has retaliated against the referendum with an international flights ban on Kurdish airports. Iran and Turkey, fearing unrest among their own large Kurdish populations, have launched joint military exercises with Iraqi troops at their borders with Iraqi Kurdistan.

For its part, Baghdad is imposing further sanctions on the KRG, including cutting off the flow of foreign currency.

Baghdad has rejected a KRG offer to discuss independence and instead demanded Kurdish leaders cancel the result of the referendum or face continued sanctions.

As such, Iraq’s Central Bank in the week informed the KRG that it would no longer sell dollars to its four leading banks and would stop all foreign currency transfers to the region.

Such a move will make it difficult for international oil companies to pay their employees since the Iraqi dinar is not accepted outside the country.