Turkey could cut off the crude oil flow from the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, putting further pressure on Kurdistan over what Ankara sees as an illegitimate separatist vote.
Turkey—which is vehemently opposing today’s referendum on independence from Iraq that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has called—is crucial to Kurdistan’s oil exports to the world, because most Kurdish oil is moved through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
Turkey has the largest Kurdish population in the region and sees the referendum as a serious matter for its own security. Iraq and Iran are also strongly opposing the Kurdish referendum. So are the U.S. and Western European powers, who have called for the vote to be canceled because it could further destabilize the region and distract from efforts to defeat ISIS.
The referendum is proceeding, and the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, tweeted that he had voted.
Turkey’s Erdogan did not say that he had definitively decided to cut off the oil exports of Kurdistan, but made clear that the option was on the table, according to Reuters.
“After this, let’s see through which channels the northern Iraqi regional government will send its oil, or where it will sell it…We have the tap. The moment we close the tap, then it’s done,” Erdogan said, as quoted by Reuters.
Earlier today, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that his country would not recognize the outcome of the Kurdish referendum, and could take punitive measures against the KRG, evaluating measures concerning border gates and air space.
According to shipping sources who spoke to Reuters, the oil flow from Kurdistan via Ceyhan was transiting as normal as of Monday morning local time. On Sunday, Iraq called on foreign countries to stop direct imports of oil from Kurdistan and to deal only with the central government.