The Kurdish referendum on independence last month has made strange bedfellows of Iran and Turkey, who worry that the vote could ignite similar independence movements by Kurdish populations in their own countries.
Iran and Turkey have “common and similar” positions on the referendum, said Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri after he met with his Turkish counterpart, General Hulusi Akar, in Tehran. Such a meeting between military chiefs of Iran and Turkey has not occurred since 1979.
“We held talks on the common threats, and also on the referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region with an emphasis on the maintenance of Iraq’s integrity and rejection of the referendum,” said Baqeri. “Iran and Turkey’s armed forces will have further cooperation in educational fields as well as in the form of staging more joint military exercises, which will be discussed during President Erdogan’s upcoming visit to Tehran.”
“In addition to political and economic cooperation between Iran and Turkey, we try to develop military cooperation, especially in the campaign against terrorism,” said General Akar, adding that “Iran and Turkey can destroy terrorism.”
Turkey and Iran are also allied in their interest to end the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. Both nations support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey (and the US) support the rebels that have been trying to overthrow him since 2011.
In the meantime, Iraq’s Prime Minister has shut down all airspace above the Kurdistan until Kurdish President Masoud Barzani hands over control of the region’s airports to the Iraqi government. Iraq and Iran plan to conduct joint military exercises along the border with Kurdistan in upcoming days.
On September 25th, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a non-binding referendum on secession from the Iraqi government. The vote was 93% in favor of secession. The vote is not a declaration of independence, but rather an official announcement that the Kurds are working towards independence.
Regional and international parties (including Washington and the UN) worry that the referendum will compound the instability of the region and exacerbate Iraq’s struggle against ISIS.
At the center of the chaos is the oil-rich region of Kirkuk, where for months US soldiers have been helping the Kurdish Peshmerga eradicate the last elements of ISIS. An additional 1,700 troops were sent to the region in advance of the referendum, and US presence in the region might be enough to deter the new Turkey-Iran alliance from taking military action against the Kurds.
Author’s Note: Iran is in the best position to take advantage of the oil located in Kurdish territory, and I find it likely that the nation’s opposition to the referendum is nothing more than a show of force.
And then there’s Russia, which despite arguments that the Kurds should have won independence via negotiations with Bagdad, are involved in oil dealings with Kurdistan – including a pipeline that could dramatically alter the region’s oil trade.