Written by Hadi Gholami Nohouji exclusively for SouthFront
These past days the so called political suicide of Masoud Barzani (President of the Iraqi Kurdistan) has been one of the major issues of concern to many countries in the Middle East to which there seems to be no clear answer, at least at the moment.
On September 25th the Iraqi Kurdistan held an independence referendum that, according to preliminary results, shows the support of almost 93 percent of the voters to the establishment of an independent Kurdistan.
The poll, which was declared illegal by the Iraqi government, was held in the face of heavy pressures by the part of Iran, Turkey and Iraq, while the international community —with the exception of Israel— rejected the referendum and advised against it.
Even Baghdad has warned repeatedly that the timing of the referendum, right when Iraq is finally pushing the Islamic State (ISIS) back and is on the verge of taking back the control of all its national soil, couldn’t be worse since it might distract the sides from the battle against ISIS and turn them against each other.
Iran, which also has a sizeable Kurdish population (6.7 million out of a total population of almost 80 million), has pushed for tough sanctions on the Iraqi Kurdistan and has even banned fuel trade with the Iraqi Kurds.
Also the unusual meetings amongst the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Mohammad Bagheri (who was a military commander whose area of responsibility was the Kurdish area during the 1979 Kurdish Rebellion in Iran), and his counterparts from Turkey and Iraq — Hulusi Akar and Othman Al-Ghanimi, respectively— suggests some kind of coordinated military effort to counter the Kurdish threat.
Iran has already sent a big military contingent to its northwest areas, where the Kurds live, and in the past days has participated in joint military drills with the Iraqi Armed Forces, which a sign of the now inevitable conflict to come.
Iran already has gone through the bitter experience of Kurdish uprising and its northwestern borders suffer occasionally from attacks and skirmishes of PJAK (Kurdistan Free Life Party) which leave casualties on the Iranian and the Kurdish sides.
During the Kurdish Rebellion in Iran of 1979 (which lasted until 1981) the Kurds made some territorial gains in the area of Mahabad and ousted the Iranian forces out of there but this didn’t last and the Revolutionary Guards took back the lost territories and then began a house to house campaign to clear the Kurdish zones of any resistance. About 10,000 people were killed during this conflict.
It is mainly because of this painful experience and the Kurdish attacks that continue to this date that many of the Iranian commanders and authorities are inclined towards the use of heavy force to suffocate any kind of Kurdish nationalism.
Also since the end Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) Iranian authorities have been increasingly worried about covert actions by rival governments to empower secessionist movements amongst Iran’s various minorities —and specially the Kurds and the Arabs— to try to break up parts of the country.
The Iranian military, along with its Turkish and Iraqi counterparts, seem eager to go all-in in the Iraqi Kurdistan but they should consider the repercussions of that. Diplomatic solutions and financial pressure alone will most likely suffice considering the geography of that region but a military confrontation with the Kurds could incite a region wide Kurdish rebellion against their home countries, something that wouldn’t benefit absolutely anyone except ISIS and the terrorist groups.
One would hope that Barzani and his colleagues would start, at some point at least, to take into account the fact that the referendum and independence would gain them nothing and could end up with the Iraqi government taking away their actual privileges and, if the worst comes to the worst, it would push Erbil into a multi-sided war against the combined might of Iran, Turkey and Iraq.