Iran Tells Iraq’s Kurds: Don’t Think about Independence or Closer Ties with Turkey

13/02/2013 RUDAW By HEVIDAR AHMED – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iran has warned Iraq’s autonomous Kurds against thinking about independence, harming relations with the Shiite government in Baghdad and getting too close to Turkey, a senior Kurdish official said. He said that Iran’s concerns were voiced in Tehran last week to a visiting delegation from his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two ruling parties inside the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), by Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s powerful Qods Force who is said to exercise enormous influence in Iraq.

“Soleimani told the PUK delegation, ‘You should not think about the division of Iraq and harming Kurdish-Shiite relations,’” the official said.  “Soleimani also asked the delegation to keep their distance from Turkey and not join their axis,” he added.

The PUK delegation consisted of Kosrat Rasul Ali, the party’s acting leader, its deputy secretary- general Barham Salih and Khasraw Gul Muhammad, a leadership member. Many voices among Iraq’s Kurds have been clamoring for independence, and the region is keen on closer ties with neighboring Turkey to sell and exports its oil and gas.  Relations between the KRG and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government, have been strained over competing territorial claims and Kurdish aspirations for independence. Baram Majeed Khan, a PUK advisor on Iranian affairs, said that Tehran did not want the Kurdistan Region to worsen its relations with Maliki.  He said that, in exchange, Iran had pledged to keep Maliki in check and made him promise not to attack the Kurdistan region.

Iran wants “to stabilize the political situation in the Kurdistan Region, especially in the green zones in which Iran does not allow political destabilization. Secondly, Iran wants to maintain good relations between the State of Law and the Kurdistan Region. This was in return for keeping Maliki in check and making him promise not to attack the Kurdistan Region. Maliki’s stay in office is important for Iran,” Khan said.

“Iran is worried about the fact that the Kurdistan Region has strong economic and commercial ties with Turkey. Iran feels that Turkey has crept into the Kurdistan Region more than it should,” Khan added. A senior PUK official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that existing differences between Kosrat Rasul and Salih also were resolved at the Tehran meeting. “Iran told them that there should be no conflicts between them inside the PUK, and their issues were resolved in Tehran.” Soleimani also told the Kurds that Tehran backs Salih to succeed Jalal Talabani as Iraq’s president. Talabani, who led the PUK for decades and is Iraq’s president, is recovering from a serious stroke.