Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. AP file photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim warned on Tuesday that those who insisted on holding the referendum for independence from Iraq should “pay the price” and said they have no problems with the Kurdish nation.
A day after Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi and the Iraqi army drove Peshmerga forces out of the oil rich city of Kirkuk, Yildirim said in Ankara they “have no problems with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Rather, those who enforced the referendum should pay the price.”
“Even if their leaders make mistakes,” Yildirim said, “we will not allow the Kurdish nation and people living in northern Iraq to pay the price for the referendum.”
Iraqi forces, which include the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service and the Iranian-backed mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, began an attack on Peshmerga-controlled areas south and west of Kirkuk on Sunday at midnight.
By Monday afternoon, the Iraqi forces had entered the city of Kirkuk and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces to take down the Kurdistan flag in the disputed areas and hoist only the Iraqi banner.
Iraqi forces have taken control of the K-1 military base, Baba Gurgur oil field, the governor's office, the airport, and other key infrastructure and roads.
Thousands of civilians fled the city, heading towards Erbil and Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region.
Concerning events in Kirkuk, Yildirim welcomed the takeover of the city by Baghdad saying “what happened is a positive development – Kirkuk is in the hands of the Iraqi government again.”
After Kirkuk was taken over by Baghdad, Ankara said it would close airspace with the Kurdistan Region and hand over control of the Ibrahim Khalil border gate to Baghdad.
The decision was made in a cabinet meeting on the recommendation of Turkey’s National Security Council.
The attack by the Iraqi forces ordered by Abadi follows weeks of punitive measures taken by Baghdad against Kurdistan in response to the September 25 independence referendum that saw 92.7 percent of people voting to leave Iraq, despite Iraqi opposition.
The Iraqi forces spearheaded by the Hashd al-Shaabi also entered downtown Shingal on Tuesday in the course of their advances on the disputed or Kurdistani territories claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.