Iranian officials in Tehran were more measured in their public statements but to the point nonetheless. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, warned the same day he met with the PUK delegation that a referendum for independence is a plot of some countries to sow division in Iraq.
“The referendum will isolate and increase pressure on the Kurds of Iraq, and it undermines Kurdistan and eventually the whole of Iraq.” The same day, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, said, “This subject [Kurdistan referendum] is not acceptable to Iraq’s neighbors at all; preserving the independence and territorial integrity of Iraq is in the interest of all ethnic [and] religious groups.”
However, in its meetings in Tehran, the PUK delegation maintained that the decision to hold the referendum was collective and made by Kurdish parties, but assured the Iranians that they will relay Tehran’s message to other parties. On July 30, during the second meeting of the Kurdistan referendum committee, the PUK delivered the message of opposition from Tehran. The response from the main party driving the vote, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was clear.
“We will not delay it [the referendum] by one minute or bring it forward by one hour; at 8 a.m. Sept. 25, people will cast their votes,” KDP leader and de facto KRG President Massoud Barzani told the committee members. It appears that Barzani, whose term as president of Iraqi Kurdistan expired two years ago, is trying hard to resolve the internal Kurdish disputes while simultaneously sending strong messages to the countries that appear opposed to the referendum.
In the July 30 meeting, Barzani dropped his opposition to the reactivation of the parliament and even agreed to discuss the controversial issue of the presidency, which has been at the center of the dispute between his party and the Change Movement (Gorran), whose ministers the KDP-led government fired in October 2015. It is not clear if Barzani will succeed in convincing the Change Movement to back the referendum given the deep animosity that exists between the two parties.