Turkey Threatens Kurdish Northern Iraq With Sanctions as Independence Referendum Nears

Turkey's foreign minister confirms reports that two Turkish intelligence officials were captured by Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq

A man holds a girl waving a Kurdish flag as they gather to support the Kurdish referendum in Iraq, at Martyrs Square in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon, September 17, 2017.
A man holds a girl waving a Kurdish flag as they gather to support the Kurdish referendum in Iraq, at Martyrs Square in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon, September 17, 2017. Hassan Ammar/AP

Turkey will consider imposing sanctions on Kurdish northern Iraq over its planned independence referendum, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was cited by state-run Anadolu news agency as saying. 

Turkey escalated its opposition to the Kurdish referendum on Tuesday, training tank guns and rocket launchers across the southern border and saying the break-up of its neighbours could lead to global conflict. 

Erdogan, who is attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, told world leaders on Tuesday that the referendum in northern Iraq could lead to fresh conflicts in the Middle East. 

Speaking to reporters outside his hotel, Erdogan said Turkey's national security council and cabinet would discuss potential sanctions on northern Iraq when they meet on Friday. 

"As the national security council, we will advise the government on our decision. With it, the cabinet will meet and discuss this. It will both evaluate this and put forth their own stance on what kind of sanctions we can impose, or if we will, but these will not be ordinary," Erdogan was quoted by Anadolu as saying. 

Turkey has strong trade ties with northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government, which pumps hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day through Turkey and has approved plans for Russian oil major Rosneft to invest in pipelines to export gas to Turkey and Europe. 

"We will announce our final thoughts on the issue with the cabinet meeting and national security council decision," Erdogan said. "I think it would be better if they saw this." 

Erdogan's remarks come a day after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed media reports that two Turkish intelligence officials were captured by Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

Cavusoglu said Turkey is working for the return of "all citizens that the PKK kidnapped," using an acronym for the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Reports claimed the agents were captured during an anti-PKK operation in Iraq in August. The group is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.