Turkish Prime Minister and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Chairperson Binali Yıldırım said on Tuesday that Turkey welcomes the takeover of Kirkuk province in northern Iraq by the central Iraqi government, the Hürriyet daily reported on Tuesday.
Speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting Yıldırım said, according to the report: “We welcome the takeover of Kirkuk by the Iraqi government. The thing to be cautious about here is to demonstrate an understanding of government that will reinforce the demographic structure. We, as Turkey, will closely follow the developments in Kirkuk. Our contributions to maintain that structure as is will continue.”
A day after the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi and the Iraqi army drove peshmerga forces from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Yıldırım welcomed the takeover of Kirkuk by Baghdad and said: “We have no problems with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Rather, those who held the independence referendum should pay the price.”
“Even if their leaders make mistakes,” Yildirim said, “we will not allow the Kurdish nation and people living in northern Iraq to pay the price for the referendum.”
Iraqi forces, which included the US-trained Counterterrorism Service and the Iranian-backed mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, began an attack on the peshmerga-controlled areas south and west of Kirkuk at midnight on Sunday, according to the Iraqi Kurdish Rudaw daily.
Rudaw also reported that by Monday afternoon Iraqi forces had entered the city of Kirkuk and that Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces to take down the Kurdistan flag in the disputed areas and hoist only the Iraqi banner.
The attack by Iraqi forces ordered by Abadi follows weeks of punitive measures taken by Baghdad against Kurdistan in response to a Sept. 25 independence referendum that saw 92.7 percent of people voting to leave Iraq, despite Iraqi opposition.
The Iraqi forces spearheaded by the Hashd al-Shaabi also entered downtown Shingal on Tuesday in the course of their advances on the disputed or Kurdistani territories claimed by both Arbil and Baghdad.