A senior Iraqi delegation arrived in Tehran on Wednesday to coordinate “joint military efforts” between the two countries. According to the Iranian media reported, Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanmi, the chief of staff of Iraqi Armed Forces, and his Iranian counterpart Major General Mohammad Bagheri discussed two key issues: joint counterterrorism measures along the two countries’ common frontier and how to respond to the Iraqi Kurdistan’s push for independence. “The Islamic Republic of Iran supports an integrated and unified Iraq. As the Iraqi Prime Minister declared, our shared borders are with the legitimate government of Iraq. We also do not recognize any sovereignty for parties and factions in northern Iraq along Iran’s borders. This is the view of the two countries armed forces,” Bagheri told reporters after the meeting. “Tomorrow, Iranian and Iraqi operational teams will visit the two countries shared frontier from the Iranian side, and we have expressed our readiness to help the Iraqi government establish its control over shared borders,” he added. Bagheri also noted that he reiterated the Islamic Republic’s support for the Iraqi government, Army, and the Popular Mobilization Forces in the meeting with al-Ghanmi.
Comment: The Iraqi Kurdistan held an independence referendum on Monday despite strong opposition from Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara. The United States, E.U., and the broader international community – with the exception of Israel – had also urged Erbil to postpone the vote.
After the vote, Iranian leaders and Tehran-aligned Iraqi militia groups have threatened retaliatory measures against Erbil. Tehran has also halted all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iranian military staged war games near the Kurdish border. Senior Iranian officials rejected the result of the plebiscite and described it as an Israeli and America “plot” to divide Iraq and counter Iranian influence in the region. Several P.M.F. commanders said the “resistance front” would not allow a “second Israel” to be established inside Iraq.
Tehran fears that the creation of a Kurdish state next door would strengthen separatist sentiments among Iran’s eight million Kurdish minority. Iranian leaders have also expressed the concern that the Kurdish push for independence could destabilize Iraq and provide a reason for U.S. long-term military presence in Iraq. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared support for the Kurdish independence, Iranian leaders found another reason to oppose the referendum. They argued that Israel, with U.S. support, aims to create a client state in northern Iraq against the “axis of resistance” – a term Tehran uses for its alliance with Shiite state and non-state actors in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and beyond. “The Zionist regime and the world Arrogance [U.S.] are behind this,” cautioned Major General Hossein Bagheri, the head of the Iranian Armed Forces.