Iran Voices Opposition to Iraqi Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum Plan

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Jun 13, 2017
Iran Voices Opposition to Iraqi Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum Plan

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has voiced opposition to the Iraqi Kurdistan’s decision to hold an independence referendum in September. The ministry’s spokesman said the move was “inconsistent” with the Iraq’s constitution and would undermine the country’s security and stability. “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s principled and clear stance is supporting Iraq’s territorial integrity and coherence,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi . “The Kurdistan Region is part of the Republic of Iraq,” he underlined. “A united, stable and democratic Iraq would guarantee the interests of all people of that country from every sect and religion,” he added. Ghassemi further called on Erbil and Baghdad to resolve their disagreements through dialogue and in line with the country’s constitution.

Comment: On June 7, Iraqi Kurdish officials announced that an independence referendum would be held on September 25 – a move that both Baghdad and Tehran oppose. 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  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.).

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups have also warned that they would not not allow any parts of Nineveh Province to be incorporated into the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. 

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. 

Turkey and the United States also oppose the Iraqi Kurdistan’s move to seek independence.