Iran Insists Land Border with Iraqi Kurdistan Remains Open

Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday that its border with Iraqi Kurdistan remained open despite its independence referendum, reversing an earlier statement, Al Arabiya reports.

“The land border between Iran and the Kurdistan region of Iraq is open. For now, only air borders between Iran and this region are closed,” a statement by the ministry said.

The latest statement corrects an earlier one given by Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, who had told reporters: “At the request of the Iraqi government, we have closed our land and air borders.”

Iran had already announced on Sunday that it was stopping all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the independence referendum. The vote is “illegal and illegitimate,” Ghasemi said.

President Hassan Rouhani spoke overnight with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, saying: “The Islamic republic of Iran fully supports the central government of Iraq.”

The referendum went ahead on Monday despite strong opposition from Baghdad and its neighbours, as well as Western governments including the United States. Iran has a large Kurdish minority around its Iraqi border, some of whom have called for independence.

Iran fears the vote could encourage separatists in its own Kurdish region, and said last week that independence could mean an end to all of border and security arrangements. Iranian security forces have faced regular attacks by militant Kurdish separatists, primarily based across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. Tehran is also a firm backer of the Iraqi government and the Hashd al-Shabi militia alliance, which has been positioned around territories disputed by Baghdad and Erbil.