Iranian leaders strongly denounced today’s referendum vote for the Iraqi Kurdistan region and warned that the move could have serious ramifications for Iraq and the broader region. In a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran and Ankara should “give a clear message to those who seek to undermine security and stability in the region.” The Iranian media did not provide details about whether the Iranian and Turkish leaders discussed any joint retaliatory measures against Erbil. Rouhani also emphasized that “preserving Iraq’s national unity and territorial integrity is of paramount importance” to the Islamic Republic. The Iranian president also discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone.
Separately, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said Tehran rejects the referendum’s result and accused the Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.), of playing a “dangerous game” that is opposed by all regional countries but Israel. “The Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq’s neighboring countries, and the United Nations insist on Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity. However, the Zionist regime opposes the implementation of such a policy.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry said Iraq’s neighbors will not recognize the Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence and stressed that Tehran “will also use all its instruments to preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity.” Bahram Ghassemi, the ministry’s spokesman, added that Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, has proposed a set of options to respond to Erbil’s plan. He rejected reports that Iranian armed forces have shelled parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, but confirmed that Tehran has closed its borders with Iraqi Kurdistan after a request from Baghdad.
Comment: Iraqi Kurds today voted in a controversial independence referendum despite regional and international concerns that the move could destabilize the region and undermine the ongoing fight against the Islamic State. With the exception of Israel, all major regional powers opposed the move. Iran and Turkey, in particularly, have been strong critics of the deal. The two countries have sizable Kurdish populations and fear that the referendum in Iraq could empower voices of separation and autonomy within their own territories.
As in Turkey, Kurdish 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.