The Iranian statements came after Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani reportedly asked Tehran to reopen its border crossings and normalize relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Iran’s hard-line Kayhan Daily quoted an anonymous Kurdish official as saying that Barzani had told two Iranian delegations over the last month that he hoped Iran and the KRG would normalize relations and open a new chapter.
Since the Iraqi government’s move to seize control of Kirkuk on Oct. 16, Barzani has sought to make amends with neighboring countries, particularly Iran. Barzani said Nov. 21 that the KRG would respect the Iraqi federal court’s ruling that the Kurdistan referendum was unconstitutional. This helped convince Tehran that the Kurds were now repentant about having held the vote. At the same press conference, Barzani said, “Iran is our neighbor. The Kurdistan Region shares a long border with Iran and we obviously want to have a good relationship with Iran.”
Prior to the referendum, Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani warned the Iraqi Kurdish leadership of severe repercussions if the referendum were to take place, as reported by Al-Monitor. Without apparent interference from the United States, Soleimani delivered on those repercussions. Iran did indeed impose an economic blockade on the Kurdistan Region and assisted Iraqi security forces, including the Popular Mobilization Units, in pushing the Kurds out of disputed territories.
A top Kurdish commander in Kirkuk, Wasta Rasul, told Kurdsat News on Dec. 15 how Iran pushed the Kurds to abandon Kirkuk without a fight. “I received a phone call Oct. 14 from the Iranians, saying they wanted to meet me,” he said. “I sat down with them. There were nine people in the delegation and only one was Iraqi. … I turned to my colleague and smiled and said, ‘We are negotiating with Iran, not Iraq.’”