Iranian President Wants to Improve Ties with Iraqi Kurds

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday called for boosting relations with the Iraqi Kurdish region as part of a united Iraq, Iranian media reported after ties were strained over an independence referendum in the area last year, Reuters reports.

“President Rouhani stressed the historical and deep-rooted ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kurds of Iraq, and said all efforts should be made to strengthen the close relations between the two nations of Iran and Iraq,” the state news agency IRNA reported.

The Islamic Republic of Iran always supports an integrated, united Iraq, said President, adding: “Defending the single government and maintaining regional borders is the responsibility of all countries and the ethnic groups living in the region and, without a doubt, powers from outside the region are not, and will not be, sympathetic towards the people of this region”.

The call came during a visit by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the first such high-level trip to Iran since last year’s Kurdish independence referendum which Iran strongly opposed.

The Kurdish referendum on Sept. 25, which produced an overwhelming “yes” for independence, angered Iraq’s central government and neighbors Iran and Turkey, which have their own restive Kurdish minorities.

Analysts have said that Iran appeared to be the ultimate winner in the crisis triggered by the referendum. Tehran is widely believed to have backed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in his offensive to recapture Kurdish held-areas, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Barzani earlier met Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who voiced concern over continued cross-border raids by Iranian Kurdish rebels from Iraq’s Kurdish region.

“We cannot tolerate that counter-revolutionary groups use Kurdish territory to assassinate our soldiers and citizens and return to the Kurdish region and then take responsibility for these acts in official Kurdish media,” IRNA quoted Shamkani as saying.

Barzani said: The “expansion of ties and cooperation between Iran and the Kurdistan region will not be affected by its opponents’ efforts, and we shall use all our power to prevent security threats against Iran,” IRNA added.

On Sunday, a Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) delegation headed by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani met with Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani in Tehran, discussing bilateral relations between the Kurdistan Region and Iran, and other developments in the region. According to a statement by the KRG, Larijani recognized the long-standing friendship and historical relations between the two nations and expressed his concerns over tensions between Erbil and Baghdad.

Larijani hoped that all issues between the KRG and the Iraqi Federal Government would be resolved through dialogue and on the basis of the constitution. The Iranian official stressed that constitutional rights of the people of the Kurdistan Region, and all of Iraq’s components, must be maintained, the KRG statement added.

Larijani also expressed his country’s support for recent talks between Erbil and Baghdad on outstanding issues.

For his part, KRG PM Barzani reiterated that the Kurdistan Region has always been a factor of stability in the region. According to a statement released by the Iranian Parliament, Larijani told the KRG delegation that Iran has close and brotherly relations with their “Kurdish brothers” and that the Kurdistan Region’s security is an important matter to Iran.

“We have strategic relations with the Kurdistan Region and will maintain such valuable relations,” Larijani said.

Several armed Iranian Kurdish opposition groups operate from bases in Iraq’s remote mountainous north and launch sporadic raids into Iran.