Iran sees challenge of Kurdish referendum as opportunity

Al-Monitor | : Up until the last day before the Sept. 25 Kurdish independence referendum, Iran was still dealing with the event with a sense of disbelief and with the misconception that it would be called off at the last moment. The assumption was that the de facto head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, was only maneuvering to negotiate a better deal with the central government in Baghdad with respect to the region’s autonomy — on both the political and the economic side. Iran thought that Barzani was looking for Iranian-Turkish support for future talks, while already having an American green light to escalate to the edge of the abyss, and that things would then be better.

This was the case when Iranian Chief of General Staff Mohammad Bagheri visited Ankara and met with high-level Turkish officials and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August. And even when Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani visited Iraqi Kurdistan to convince the Kurdish leadership to “delay the vote,” Tehran was still dealing with the whole story from a perspective that could easily be described as one of denial. This policy continued until the moment the Kurds announced that the referendum returned a big “yes,” with almost 93% of votes in favor of independence.

Barzani had killer timing: The whole region is apprehensive of taking any step toward a new escalation, with crises already igniting in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf. Therefore, it was clear to the Kurdish leader that it’s either now or never. Now that the referendum has been held, what are the dynamics that are to follow this historical change? And how is Iran as a nation — and its powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — going to deal with it?

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