The Iraqi military is making preparations Saturday to move in and control Kurdish borders, following a successful independence referendum to make Kurdistan a separate country.
Iraqi troops are now stationed in Turkey and Iran and will reportedly soon start controlling who goes in and who comes out of Kurdish-controlled areas, the Associated Press reports.
That control apparently won’t extend to the Iraqi military moving in on Kurdish-controlled territory, but whether that restraint holds is an open question, which has sparked U.S. worry of an escalating rift between the Iraqis and Kurds, both of whom are U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
The Kurds have had some level of de facto independence since 1991.
Iraq, Turkey and Iran have come out against the non-binding independence referendum, with Turkey threatening to end the Kurds’ oil pipeline and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowing that Kurdish authorities will pay the price for their actions.
“They are not forming an independent state, they are opening a wound in the region to twist the knife in,” Erdogan said.
Even the U.S. asked the Kurds to cancel the vote, which ended up producing a 93 percent “yes” result in favor of separating from Iraq out of a population of 3 million.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the U.S. does not recognize the legitimacy of the referendum, and urged the Iraqis and Kurds to focus squarely on defeating ISIS.
The fact that the referendum question has come so aggressively to the forefront is precisely because ISIS has lost large swathes of its territory in Iraq and Syria, making it much less of a threatening force than it was just a year ago.
Separation would entail taking a third of Iraq’s existing territory, which happens to include a wealth of oil and gas reserves.
As such, Baghdad has blocked international flights to the Kurdish region known as Kurdistan, and Iraq’s parliament has requested that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi slap charges against any Kurdish leaders who took part in the referendum, which Baghdad considers unconstitutional.
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