Kurdistan Referendum puts Iran at Crossroads

Thus, given the complex and dangerous regional landscape, as well as Iran’s domestic security situation, the referendum on an independent Kurdistan places the Islamic Republic at a crossroads. If the Kurds manage to iron out their internal differences and hold the vote and then declare independence, Iran will have to think hard before it makes its final decision about its posture toward a Kurdish state.

Tehran could support an independent Kurdistan that boosts economic and security cooperation while receiving guarantees that such an entity will not become a source of instability on its borders. Iran could also benefit from providing an alternative route for Kurdish oil to find its way to international markets.

Conversely, the Islamic Republic could oppose statehood for Iraqi Kurds by closing its airspace, imposing an economic blockade and using its Shiite proxies in Iraq to cause nuisances, but that could potentially open the gates to a Kurdish revolt on both sides of the border and invite possible foreign interference to its immediate west. Given that Saudi Arabia, the enemy of Iran, has given positive signals toward Iraqi Kurds — and Riyadh’s alleged support for Iranian Kurdish militants based in Iraqi Kurdistan — a continued autonomous Kurdistan region supported by the Saudis could become a challenge perhaps greater than the threats posed by an independent Kurdish state.

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