Iran in Talks with Iraqi Kurds over Referendum
(Picture: Iran Supreme National Security Council chief Ali Shamkhani and PUK Deputy Secretary General Kosrat Rasul Ali.)
From the very beginning of the campaign, Iran has seen the upcoming referendum poll in Kurdistan as setting the stage for the balkanization of Iraq. Last week, Iran hosted members from the party of the former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. A high-ranking delegation from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by deputy secretary general Kosrat Rasul Ali, and the Chief of the Executive Body of the political bureau, Mala Bakhtiar, is in Tehran to negotiate with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) secretary Ali Shamkhani. The Iranian official has stressed Iran’s disapproval of the plan.
In a meeting with the PUK officials, the SNSC secretary pointed to the liberation of Mosul from the grip of Takfiri terrorists of Daesh, saying it would herald a better future for an integrated Iraq and foil foreign plots aimed at creating a division in the country.
“A secure, stable and united Iraq promotes the country’s sustainable security, stability and progress and friendly countries to Iraq and its well-wishers must support such an approach,” Shamkhani pointed out. Shamkhani said the independence plan would “in fact put pressure on and isolate Iraqi Kurds and weaken Kurdistan and eventually all of Iraq.” The Iranian official added that the plan went against the policies and initiatives of the Iraqi officials and was neither a priority and nor an immediate public demand, PressTV reported.
Shamkhani further noted that certain regional and extra-regional countries sought to undermine Iraq and big countries in the Middle East, stressing that such arrogant plots should be thwarted by remaining vigilant and paying attention to the interests of the nation and those of the Muslim world. He said the Islamic Republic wishes “security, economic development and prosperity” for people, parties and groups in the north of Iraq whose realization would prevent the activities and spread of terrorist groups.
Rasul Ali, for his part, said Iran had always played a leading role in supporting Kurdistan, particularly in countering Daesh terrorists, and prevented a security disaster in this region. “At the time when Takfiri terrorists were getting close to Erbil borders, the Islamic Republic was the only state that helped Kurds in the fight against Daesh to prevent a security catastrophe in the Iraqi Kurdistan,” he said.
In the meantime, the Iraqi ambassador to Iran has called the Kurdish bid illegitimate in an interview with Iran’s Student News Agency (ISNA). Rajeh Saber Abboud al-Mousavi called the independence referendum an unconstructive move, illegal in terms of the Iraqi constitution. “The Iraqi constitution, which 10 years ago spoke to Iraqis and aroused the satisfaction of all, including the Kurds and the Arabs, guarantees the unity of Iraq, and everyone should abide by this law. The referendum is clearly against the law,” Mr. al-Mousavi said. Calling Kurds friends and brothers of the Iraqi nation, he called for talks to settle any complaints on the Kurdish side. “Iranian officials have expressed their disapproval on the issue. Like other states as well as the United Nations, they emphasized the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and we should rest assured that Iranians do care for the solidarity and integrity of Iraq,” the Iraqi diplomat added.
Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad has also announced in a press conference that he will soon engage in talks with the President of Iraqi Kurdistan. On Sunday and in a joint presser with Hadi Ali, a PUK official, Iranian ambassador Iraj Masjedi said he would directly negotiate with Masoud Barzani. In an earlier meeting with Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani on the same day, Masjedi had said Iran was ready to help resolve differences between Erbil and Baghdad.
Following a meeting of the major Kurdish political parties in Erbil, Masoud Barzani announced that the Iraqi Kurdistan would hold an independence referendum on September 25. The Iraqi central government had already announced its opposition to the referendum. The Iraqi Kurdistan has been autonomous since 1991, following the first Persian Gulf War and the announcement of no-fly zones by the US. Ever since Saddam Hussein's government collapsed in 2003 and the new constitution was drafted, Kurdistan has been a federal entity of Iraq, with independent government, parliament, and armed forces. The notion of a potential referendum in Kurdistan to secede from Baghdad has been in the air in recent years, especially after the Iraqi army failed to resist extensive ISIS attacks in the summer of 2014.
Iran and Turkey, two neighbors of Iraq, have repeatedly expressed opposition to any plan that would balkanize Iraq. In June, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi had expressed Tehran’s opposition to the “unilateral” plan, stressing the importance of maintaining integrity and stability in the Arab country. “The principal and clear position of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to support Iraq’s territorial integrity and solidarity. The Kurdistan region is part of the Republic of Iraq,” Press TV quoted Qassemi as saying. Qassemi went on to say that, “unilateral” decisions outside the national and legal framework and principles, particularly the Iraqi Constitution, would “only create new problems,”. Qassemi urged Iraqis to maintain their unity and said, “An integrated, stable and democratic Iraq guarantees the interests of all the country’s people from any ethnicity or religion”.
“Today, Iraq more than ever needs peace and national consensus and differences between Erbil (capital of the Kurdistan region) and Baghdad must be settled within the framework of dialogue and national understanding and in compliance with the Iraq Constitution,” the Iranian spokesman pointed out.