Iran moved a dozen tanks supported by artillery to its border with Iraq’s separatist Kurdish region after Kurds overwhelmingly voted to become independent from Baghdad.
The military moves were part of exercises Iranian forces held with Iraqi forces, but the underlying message to the Kurds was clear: Neither Baghdad nor Tehran supports the vote or Kurdish independence. Neither does Turkey; all three countries have sizeable Kurdish minorities.
“The tanks can be seen from the Kurdish side,” an official from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security council told Reuters, adding that the move was a “dangerous escalation.”
The KRG says it plans to use the referendum’s result as a mandate to negotiate the peaceful secession of the Kurdish region through talks with Baghdad.
KRG President Masoud Barzani said on Monday it was legitimate to hold the vote in the Kurdish areas, including in the multi-ethnic oil city of Kirkuk, also claimed by Baghdad.
“Kirkuk is a Kurdistani city which should become an example for the coexistence of nations and religions,” he said during a visit to Kirkuk.
But Baghdad has rejected any talks with the KRG over independence. It demanded that the KRG relinquish control over its external border crossings with Turkey, Iran and Syria. It also demanded the KRG hand over its airports to federal control.
The Iraqi government is attempting to present itself as inclusive for all Iraqis, even airing a daily news broadcast in Kurdish. Still, the Kurds insist they be given their own autonomy.
The three governments — Iran, Iraq, and Turkey — are all currently moving to shore up their borders with Kurdish regions and are presently considering options which include isolation, sanctions, and if necessary, military action.
Iran’s military chief, General Mohammad Baqeri, met Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar in Tehran Monday.
“Iran and Turkey share the same stance on the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan and both insist on the sovereignty of Iraq,” Baqeri was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA after their meeting
“The armed forces of both countries will increase cooperation in training and war games,” he was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
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