ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey will shut down a vital border crossing and its trade with the Kurdistan Region gradually and in tandem with the governments in Baghdad and Tehran in response to Erbil's quest for statehood, said a top aide for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.
"We by no means harbor any intentions or thoughts of punishing Iraq's Kurds. What we are against is the initiative to divide [Iraq]," Erdogan's spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Istanbul.
However, he said punitive measures Turkey and Iran were mulling in retaliation to the Kurdistan leadership's decision to hold a referendum on independence from Iraq last month "would hurt the Kurds."
"[Changing the borders] harms not only Iraq's territorial integrity but also our Kurdish brothers who live in the Kurdish region," Kalin emphasized, refraining from using Kurdistan's constitutionally and internationally recognized name.
He reiterated his country's call for the Kurdish leadership to "immediately" reverse the results of the referendum.
The renewed Turkish threat to cut tens-of-billions-worth commercial ties with Kurdistan comes as Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is expected to embark on a visit to Baghdad Sunday to meet with his Iraqi counterpart, Haider al-Abadi.
Both governments have been looking for an alternative border crossing that could bypass the Kurdistan Region as the entirety of Turkish goods shipped to Iraq go through Kurdistan Regional Government-administered (KRG) areas.
Yildirim's cabinet members have proposed a narrow passageway, where the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria which divide the Kurds converge.
“We have proposed Baghdad the opening of a new gate in Ovakoy, west of the currently-used Khabur gate, and we expect it will be approved," Yildirim recently told the media.
But the Iraqi side of Ovakoy, too, is under the Kurdistan Region's control.
On Wednesday, a Kurdish official ruled out the opening of any new border crossing without Kurdistan's permission.
“No border crossing could open in the Kurdistan Region without the official approval of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” said Secretary-General of the Peshmerga. Jabar Yawar.
Editing by G.H. Renaud