By Fazel Hawramy for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.
Iran willing to normalize ties with KRG, but not without change
Iran appears to be preparing to normalize its relations with Iraqi Kurdistan after two tumultuous months in which it helped Baghdad bring the Kurds to their knees following their ill-fated Sept. 25 independence referendum.
Iran has expanded its influence in Iraq by delivering on its promises to Baghdad, and in particular assisting the Popular Mobilization Units in retaking disputed territories from Kurdish forces, just as Iran promised before the referendum.
“The September referendum on Kurdish independence has had disastrous consequences for the Kurds and for the cooperation that had emerged between Baghdad and Erbil during the Mosul campaign,” former US Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones told a Senate committee Dec. 14. “Following the referendum, [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi] did what was needed. Now he is in a position to work toward reconciliation.”
These and other comments by both Iranian and US officials confirm one important point about the situation in northern Iraq during the past few months, or perhaps even years: Iran and the United States were unified in their opposition to the referendum, and now appear again to agree — this time on pushing Abadi to reconcile with the Kurds. Iran seems to be doing so by resuming trade with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq after closing its land border crossings, a vital lifeline for the Kurdistan economy.
“We have decided to reopen these two [land border] crossings in one or two days,” Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told reporters Dec. 17. Iran had previously opened one of its border crossings into Iraqi Kurdistan on Oct. 25. The day after Fazli’s announcement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi announced that all border crossings had been reopened, without offering further details. Kurdish news agencies had reported that the crossings had been closed on Oct. 15.