Kurdistan Referendum puts Iran at Crossroads

However, Iran’s assistance to Iraqi Kurds, partly in order to use them against its own rebellious Kurds, has also caused immeasurable damage to its own stability and security. When Iran fought a bloody battle against Iranian Kurds in the 1980s, it had to devote huge resources and enormous manpower to contain them. Most Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) top brass, including top commander Mohammad Ali Jafari and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, are veterans of the war in Iranian Kurdistan.

Other senior IRGC personnel who have been killed in Syria and Iraq in recent years started their careers in the mountains of Iranian Kurdistan. On the other side of the coin, representatives of the IRGC and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence have been present in Iraqi Kurdistan since the mid-1980s, offering Tehran close knowledge of the Kurdish leadership and the Kurdish region inside out.

This knowledge has led Iranian officials to retain great pragmatism, perhaps also guided by the experiences of its neighbor Turkey, which has for decades been mired in armed conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party and more recently the latter’s affiliates in northern Syria. The impact of this pragmatism has been compounded by consistent acts of solidarity, although oftentimes motivated by Iran’s own interests.

In the summer of 1988, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurdistan was devastated by chemical weapons and the murder of 182,000 civilians. While the Persian Gulf states funded Saddam, and the West, including the United States, UK and France, armed his regime to the teeth, Iran welcomed thousands of fleeing Kurds into its territory. During the 1991 uprising in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Iran again opened its borders and allowed Iraqi Kurds to find shelter on its soil, while Turkey closed its borders.

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