Iran’s news defense minister has said that Tehran will work more closely with Baghdad to confront Iraqi Kurdish leaders who seek independence. “We consider the separatist movement in Iraq detrimental for the region and we will spare no efforts to preserve regional countries’ stability and territorial integrity,” Brigadier General Amir Hatami said on Tuesday. “Now that this destructive movement has taken shape in Iraq, we will certainly expand our cooperation with this country [Iraq] to confront such actions.” The Iranian defense minister further equated the Iraqi Kurdistan’s push for independence with acts of terrorism by al Qaeda and the Islamic State. “Those who plan and implement separatism in Iraq should know that they are playing in in the field of America and the Zionist regime. This is because regional countries need peace, security and stability. And any action contrary to the popular wishes in regional countries is condemned to defeat.”
Comment: Iranian leaders have reacted harshly to the independence vote in Iraqi Kurdistan and have taken retaliatory measures against Erbil. Tehran has halted all flights to and from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq and the Iranian military launched war games near the Kurdish border. Tehran is also helping Baghdad to take control of border crossings between the two countries.
Tehran is also cooperating more closely with Ankara to undermine Iraqi Kurdistan’s push for independence. In a meeting with visiting Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar on Tuesday, the Iranian defense minister emphasized that the two countries should join hands in confronting Iraqi Kurdish leaders. “Iran and Turkey will not allow a new scenario of the Zionist regime to materialize in the region,” Hatami was quoted as saying during the meeting with Akar.
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.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khameni on international affairs, denounced the vote and called Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) a “puppet of Zionists” who he said was “the verge of collapse.” He stressed that Iran and its allies would not allow Barzani to create a “second Israel” in Iraq. “The people of Iran and the region will not remain silent to this move and will oppose this wrong step. Mr. Barzani will have no option but to retreat; otherwise he will be confronted.” He further warned that Iran would defend Iraq’s territorial integrity the way it fought for Syria’s unity in the past six years.