Kurdish referendum triggers retaliation from Iraq, Turkey

ERBIL — The Kurdish people face  their vote for independence as neighboring states ratchet up their opposition to the move. 93 percent of Kurds voted for independence on Monday in a referendum that the Iraqi national government deemed illegal. Turkey, to the north, has also vowed to retaliate with blockades and sanctions, which are likely to cause severe economic woes to the fledgling state. Already, Iraq has shut down international flights in and out of the region, with several major international airlines already flagging that they won't be offering services.

The last commercial international flights out of Iraqi Kurdistan left on Friday, as the Iraqi government began to squeeze Kurdistan in retaliation. "All international flights without exception to and from Irbil will stop from 6pm (10am ET) on Friday following a decision by the Iraqi cabinet and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi," Talar Faiq Salih told AFP news agency on Thursday.

The Kurds of Iraq have been stalwart allies to the U.S. in the fight against ISIS in northern Iraq. Many in Kurdistan believe the sacrifices its troops have made in that long-running battle means they are more deserving of their independence, but allies are not lining up behind them. 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson deemed the vote illegitimate on Friday, saying that the United States does not recognize the result, and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Iraqi Kurdish authorities would pay the price for the vote, issuing threats to hurt the region economically, and circumvent Kurdish authorities with whom his government had fostered strong links.

"They are not forming an independent state, they are opening a wound in the region to twist the knife in," Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum. However, after Erdogan said that Iraqi Kurds would go hungry if Ankara halted the cross-border flow of trucks and oil, his prime minister reiterated that any measures it took would not target civilians and instead focus on those who organized the referendum.

Turkish Prime Minister Bin Yildirim, speaking on Saturday, did not refer specifically to those plans, but said Ankara would no longer deal with Kurdish authorities in Erbil.


"From now on, our relationships with the region will be conducted with the central government, Baghdad," he said. "As Iran, Iraq and Turkey, we work to ensure the games being played in the region will fail."