Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kurdish Independence Prospect Cements a Turkish-Iranian Alliance

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kurdish Independence Prospect Cements a Turkish-Iranian Alliance

Article excerpt

AS THE CLOCK ticks toward the referendum on Iraqi Kurdistan's independence, tensions mount rapidly in neighboring countries. Both Tehran and Ankara will do their utmost to have the September vote blocked, annulled or at least postponed indefinitely.

This joint stand became clear during a top-level Iranian military visit to Ankara by the chief of the general staffof the Iranian armed forces, Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, escorted by the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Border Protection Troops. It was the first time since 1979 that an Iranian top general visited Turkey. The meeting exemplified how significantly the regional balances have been rattled.

"If such a thing happens, it will trigger a new tension and will affect the neighboring countries negatively," Bagheri said about the upcoming Kurdish vote. "Therefore, the two countries insist that it shall not be possible and should not be conducted."

He added that Ankara and Tehran had agreed on joint operations and intelligence sharing. This is very bad news, not only for Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani, who is banking on the referendum securing his future, but also for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the second most powerful player on the Iraqi Kurdish stage after Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is the engine behind the referendum. Reports have circulated that the Iranian military warned the KRG about severe consequences should the vote go on.

Barzani in June announced plans for a referendum on independence on Sept. 25, with voting expected in Kirkuk and three other areas. Kurdish officials have said the vote wouldn't lead to an automatic declaration of independence, but would improve the Kurds' position in talks with the government in Baghdad regarding self-determination.

It is apparent that Tehran is on the same page as Ankara about the anxiety of a declaration of Kurdish independence. Both countries have large Kurdish populations: There are about 8 million Kurds in Iran and more than 14 million in Turkey. Both groups have, for decades, acted to carve a path to independence or secession and have been watching with intense attention how their brethren in Iraq and Syria push for what they have been dreaming of. …

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