Tehran vowed on Tuesday to stand alongside Baghdad and Ankara against the outcome of an independence referendum staged by Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq, a day after thousands of Iranian Kurds marched in support of the vote, Jerusalem Post reports.
Iran, Iraq and Turkey – countries with Kurdish minorities – have all denounced the referendum as a threat to the stability of a region already beset by conflict, while the United States has expressed similar disquiet.
Iranian state media quoted Ali Akbar Velayati, army commander and the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying that new missile systems have been installed in western provinces that border Iraqi Kurdish areas to “firmly respond to any invasion, stepping up the pressure as the Iraqi government ruled out talks on possible secession for Kurdish-held northern Iraq and Turkey threatened sanctions.
“The Iraqi people won’t stand silent. Iran and Turkey and other regional countries won’t stand silent and will stand against this abhorrent deviation.The Muslim nations will not allow the creation of a second Israel,” Velayati was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.
Yet he did not say what action Iran had in mind. However, the country’s media have compared the Kurds’ desire for a homeland with the 1948 creation of Israel. The Islamic republic regards the Jewish state as its greatest enemy along with the United States.
The vote organized by Kurdish authorities is expected to deliver a comfortable “yes” for independence, but is not binding. However, it is designed to give Masoud Barzani, who heads the KRG, a mandate to negotiate the secession of the oil-producing region.
Initial referendum results indicated 72 percent of eligible voters had taken part and an overwhelming majority, possibly over 90 percent, had said “yes,” Kurdish TV channel Rudaw said. Final results are expected by Wednesday.
About 30 million ethnic Kurds are scattered across the region but have no country of their own. With 8 to 10 million living in Iran, Tehran fears pressure for secession will grow among a minority which has a long history of struggle for its political rights.
Tehran announced a ban on direct flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday at the request of the central government in Baghdad and called for a land blockade of the autonomous region by all neighboring countries. Media gave no further details of the newly-installed missile systems. However, Iranian fighter jets flew in a show of force over western provinces of Iran as part of a military drill, including the Kurdish cities of Sardasht and Oshnavieh.