PM Yıldırım to visit Baghdad amid KRG referendum crisis

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This handout photo provided by the Turkish Prime Minister's Press Office shows Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım (L) and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) speaking during a meeting at the governmental palace in Baghdad on January 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Friday he has received an invitation from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and that he will visit Baghdad, the T24 news website reported.

“Our friends have been working on the content and timing of the visit. This is an important visit. It needs to be well prepared for,” Yıldırım told reporters in Ankara.

Yıldırım’s visit preparations came amid a crisis emanating from an independence referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq on Sept. 25.

Declaring the referendum illegitimate and unacceptable, Turkey, Iraq and Iran threatened the KRG with sanctions if it pushes further.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday said Turkey, Iraq and Iran would soon close airspace and borders with the KRG as a measure against the referendum.

“Northern Iraq [the KRG] is a national security issue. There will be step-by-step sanctions. In order not to harm our trade with Iraq, we plan to open the Ovaköy border gate, which is west of the Habur border gate [with the KRG]. We want support from Iraq. I would like to meet with al-Abadi to talk about all those issues,” said Yıldırım.

Yıldırım also underlined that he did not expect the Turkish military presence in Bashiqa near Mosul to be an issue as it was before.

Ankara and Baghdad had a months-long war of words over Bashiqa last year. The two countries agreed to resolve the issue amicably following the visit of Prime Minister Yıldırım to Baghdad on Jan. 7.

The Iraqi parliament decided on Oct. 4, 2016 to remove the Turkish troops, by force if needed, and described the Turkish units as an “invading force.” The decision then prompted mutual recriminations between the two countries and the summoning of ambassadors.

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