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Erdogan warns of ‘ethnic war’ risk over Iraqi Kurdish independence

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ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the Iraqi Kurdish leader against pushing for independence after holding a non-binding referendum, saying such a move risked sparking an “ethnic war” in the region.

“If (Massud) Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

Iraq’s Kurds on Monday voted in a historic independence referendum despite fierce opposition from Baghdad and neighbouring countries Iran and Turkey.

Turnout was 72 percent, with 3.3 million of the 4.58 million registered voters taking part, election commission spokesman Shirwan Zirar said late Monday.

Results were expected within 24 hours, with an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote not in doubt.

Erdogan described the vote as a “treason to our country” since it had come at a time of good relations between Ankara and its neighbour the KRG.

He urged Barzani to “give up on an adventure which can only have a dark end.”

Erdogan reaffirmed that Turkey — which fears the effects of the vote on its own sizeable Kurdish population — would consider all options from economic sanctions to military measures.

“Airspace and ground (options) are all on the table,” he said, in apparent reference to his past threats to close the border.

“All options are on the table right now and being discussed,” he said. “You (the KRG) will be stuck from the moment we start implementing the sanctions.”

The Turkish president said no other country would recognise Iraqi Kurds’ independence other than Israel, which had warmly supported the referendum.

“Who will recognise your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel,” he said.

But Erdogan warned Barzani that the support of the Jewish state would not be enough. “You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you.”

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