Iran hits Iraqi Kurdistan with fuel embargo as Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Israel of stoking region’s independence ambitions
Both of the neighbouring countries strongly opposes independence for the Iraqi Kurds, fearing it will provoke separatists among their own Kurdish populations
Iran has embargoed exports and imports of fuel products to and from Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the region’s controversial independence referendum, Iranian media reported on Saturday.
All transport companies and drivers are ordered to stop carrying fuel products between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan “until further notice” or face “consequences”, the state broadcaster’s website reported citing a transport ministry directive.
Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in Monday’s non-binding referendum, which has sent regional tensions soaring.
Iran strongly opposes independence for the Iraqi Kurds, fearing it will provoke separatists among its own Kurdish population.
The transport ministry order – sent to various organisations and transport associations – is dated Wednesday, according to a copy published by Tasnim news agency.
“Based on the recent regional developments and the order of the department of border and counter-strike affairs of the Interior Ministry, international transport companies and drivers should avoid loading and carrying fuel products to and/or from the Kurdistan region of Iraq until further notice,” the directive said.
Gas oil is one of Iran’s main exports to the autonomous Kurdistan region, which imported 110 million litres of it from Iran last year, state broadcaster IRIB said quoting figures from the National Oil Company.
Iran is one of the main exporters of fuel products to Kurdistan, IRIB said.
Total annual trade between the two stood at US$5 billion, according to the broadcaster.
Tehran does not recognise the independence vote and has been increasing pressure on the Kurdistan region after the referendum. It has since suspended all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan and warned that all border agreements will be nullified, although border crossings are still open.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday accused Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency of playing a role in Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence vote – proved by the waving of Israeli flags during celebrations of the overwhelming “yes’ vote.
Ankara fiercely opposed the referendum and has also threatened sanctions against the region amid similar fears it could spark an uprising from its own sizeable Kurdish minority.
During a televised speech, Erdogan said Turkey had been saddened to see some Iraqi Kurds acclaiming the independence referendum with Israeli flags.
“This shows one thing, that this administration [in northern Iraq] has a history with Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together,” Erdogan said.
Israel has been the only country to openly support an independent Kurdish state, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backing “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own”.
Erdogan has derided the Israeli support.
“Are you aware of what you are doing?” Erdogan said in an appeal to Iraqi Kurdish leaders.
“Only Israel supports you.”
Ankara has threatened to shut the land border between Turkey and the region and halt transit of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to the southern Turkish port of Ceyhan, an economic lifeline.
On Friday, the Turkish carriers Turkish Airlines, Atlas and Pegasus suspended their flights to Iraqi Kurdistan for an unspecified period of time.
Erdogan on Saturday vowed that Iraqi Kurdistan “will pay a price” for the “unacceptable” independence referendum, without elaborating.
“An independent state is not being founded in northern Iraq, but on the contrary a continuously bleeding wound is being opened,” he said.
“To ignore this reality benefits neither us, nor our Kurdish brothers in Iraq,” he said, calling on Iraqi Kurds to “wake up from this dream” of independence.
Business sources quoted in Turkish media have warned that the closure of the Habur border gate could harm US$7 billion of trade between Ankara and Arbil.
The reactions from Turkey and Iran came after the United States on Friday declared the Kurdish vote illegitimate.
“The United States does not recognise the ... unilateral referendum,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Washington’s first substantive statement on the vote, in which nearly 93 per cent of voters in the Kurdistan region approved declaring an autonomous state in northern Iraq.
“The vote and the results lack legitimacy,” Tillerson said. “And we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.”
He urged both sides to reject the use of force and engage in dialogue, and to remain focused on the fight against Islamic State, which he said was “not over.”
Additional reporting The Washington Post