A prominent Iranian-sponsored Iraqi militia group has rejected a U.N.-sponsored initiative on the Iraqi Kurdistan and warned that Erbil’s plan to hold an independence referendum is a “foreign conspiracy” that will destabilize Iraq. Earlier today, the political bureau of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a unit within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), issued a statement calling for unity in Iraq and rejected a U.N.-sponsored initiative on Kurdistan. “We have a constitution which is the basis for all political processes in the country. So does this mean that we need an international intervention to resolve our outstanding problems with [K.R.G. President] Mr. Massoud Barzani?” He criticized Iraqi President Fuad Masum for accepting the U.N. plan which he claimed “violates” the Iraqi constitution. “Unfortunately, attempts by conspirators to divide and weaken [Iraq] continue to undermine the unity of our country,” the statement said about the referendum planned for September 25. “We in Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq declare our rejection of this initiative, which goes against the Constitution.”
According to the statement, the U.N. initiative increases Erbil’s leverage over Baghdad. “Some of these [U.N.] statements clearly acknowledge the demands of Mr. Barzani to exert the maximum possible pressure on the federal government, to impose his control on Iraqis, to remain in areas that he illegally seized, and to achieve his reprehensible border demarcation with blood.”
The statement further called on all Iraqi Kurdish politicians to oppose Barzani’s plan for referendum and engage in dialogue with Baghdad to resolve their differences. “We will not hesitate for one moment to confront projects aimed at dividing and weakening Iraq.”
Comment: As the Iraqi Kurdistan is set to hold an independence referendum on Monday, Tehran and its Iraqi proxies have warned that the consequences of such a move would be dire. “If tension over the Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum continues, it will certainly culminate in civil war” Hadi al-Amiri, the head of Iranian-supported Badr Organization, was quoted as saying by Iran’s Fars News Agency. “Unfortunately, when the civil war breaks out, blood will be shed,” he added.
Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups have warned that they would not allow any parts of Nineveh Province to be incorporated into the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. A senior official of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq had earlier threatened violence against the leadership of the Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Fars News Agency. Adnan Faihan, the head of the group’s political office, warned Barzani against “marking the border with blood” and said his militia forces are ready to confront him if the Kurdish leader “tries to impose his will on disputed regions.”
Iranian leaders have also cautioned that the referendum vote would thrust Iraq back to anarchy and chaos. “Disintegration of Iraq would mark the beginning of widespread insecurity not only in Iraq, but in the entire region… We oppose such a referendum and call on the Kurdish leaders to halt that plan,” Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei warned during a recent trip to Baghdad. The former chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) also accused K.R.G. leaders of playing a “dangerous game” and pursuing “personal motives” rather than national interest.
Iranian leaders fear that the Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence may undermine Iran’s long-term strategic interests in Iraq. In April, Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.)'s elite Quds Force, reportedly traveled to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah to convince Iraqi Kurdish leaders not to hold the referendum. The Iranian general, according to Asharq al-Awsat, held meetings with leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.), which is headed by Jalal Talabani, and urged them against reaching an agreement over the referendum with President Masoud Barzani, who is also the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (K.D.P.). Other Iranian leaders have also publicly voiced opposition to the referendum plan.
Tehran is also concerned that such a move might trigger calls for autonomy among its own Kurdish population. Militant and separatist groups have waged a low-intensity insurgency against the Iranian state for decades. Iranian Kurds – estimated about eight million – have long complained about state-sanctioned discrimination and economic and political marginalization. The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran – a militant group based in the Iraqi Kurdistan – has resumed militancy and occasionally launches attacks against the Iranian security forces.