Clashes in Kirkuk Over Kurdish Referendum

Rosneft spokesperson Mikhail Leontyev

Rosneft spokesperson Mikhail Leontyev

Washington argues that the vote will weaken Arab-Kurdish joint military operations that have helped to send IS militants into retreat in both Iraq and war-torn Syria.

"We will ourselves not initiate a clash or a fight", said Rowsch Shaways, a former deputy prime minister of Iraq and the head of the Kurdish delegation negotiating with Baghdad.

Kurdistan is holding an independence vote on September 25 as it seeks to part ways from Baghdad after years of disputes over budget revenues and the sharing of oil exports.

"The referendum for independence which they have scheduled for September 25 is not only aimed at capturing the lands of the Iraqi Turkmen, but it's also part of their plan against the Turkic presence [therein]".

The army was training tank guns and rocket launchers across the southern border on Tuesday, less than a week before a Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq.

The KRG, which governs the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, has said a pro-independence vote would not trigger an immediate secession.

The mixed province of Kirkuk has been under the administration of the KRG since 2014 after Iraqi forces failed to protect the area from the Islamic State (IS) and were pushed out.

The military drill is a "signal that Turkey may review its support for Iraq's Kurds, rather than intervene in Iraqi affairs militarily", said Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, an Ankara-based research center. The poll, which is widely expected to result in a resounding vote to secede from Iraq, is simply an important first step in what would be a lengthy but amicable divorce from the Iraqi state, they say.

Beyond the three provinces that have made up Iraqi Kurdistan since the fall of Saddam Hussein after a US-led invasion, Iraq's Kurds have also claimed territory in Kirkuk, as well as the Nineveh and Diyala provinces.

Turkey has brought forward to Friday a cabinet meeting and a session of its national security council to consider possible action.

Turkey's defence minister warned on Tuesday that the breakup of Iraq or Syria could have dire consequences.

Turkey, concerned that the referendum might stir separatist dreams among its own Kurds, has threatened Arbil with "a price" to pay if the vote goes ahead.