It appears that Iran succeeded in helping Baghdad squeeze the Kurds and retake all the disputed territories from them. US President Donald Trump said his administration would not side with any party in an internal matter.
While Iran may be buoyant about its success, the Kurdish public is angry and feels betrayed by both Soleimani and the Kurdish leadership. But as the Kurds try to make sense of losing so much after the referendum, Iran may come to regret its decision to humiliate the Kurdish public in the long run. The sense of humiliation is palpable across to the Kurdistan Region. “I have picked up my father’s Kalashnikov to defend my town,” said a young man on Oct. 16, sitting on a hill just outside Kirkuk and clinging to his rusty gun. With tears in his eyes, Garmiyan,18, said that he would not run away and would rather die defending his hometown as he looked down on the road jammed with vehicles fleeing the city.
Anti-Iran sentiment is now growing in the Kurdistan Region, despite how the Kurds have generally seen Iran, a country that they have often turned to in times of need. When Saddam’s regime launched chemical attacks in 1988, the Kurds turned to Iran; again, in 1991, as Saddam’s army attacked Kurdish areas in the aftermath of the Gulf War, many were housed by Iran. By and large, the Kurds see themselves as ethnically closer to Iranians than to Arabs and Turks because of their thousands of years of shared history.
Tehran’s assistance to Baghdad in this episode of Iraq’s tumultuous history may thus ultimately hurt Tehran’s influence in the Kurdistan Region, while for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the Shiite commanders may have already become too powerful to contain.
There is no doubt that the Kurdish leadership is guilty of monumental miscalculations by pushing ahead with an ill-timed referendum. But given the reactions to their policies, both Washington and Tehran are likely to come to regret humiliating the Kurdish public in years to come.