Why this Iran general has slammed Iraq referendum plan

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Iran’s Armed Forces chief of staff said Wednesday after talks with Turkey’s president that a referendum on independence in Iraq’s Kurdish region would trigger conflict and negative consequences for the entire region.

General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri’s remarks, carried by Iran’s official IRNA news agency, underlined the firm opposition shared in Tehran and Ankara to the poll next month.

“Both sides stressed that if the referendum would be held, it will be the basis for the start of a series of tensions and conflicts inside Iraq, the consequences of which will affect neighboring countries,” Bagheri was quoted as saying.

“Holding the referendum will get Iraq, but also Iran and Turkey involved and that’s why the authorities of the two countries emphasize that it is not possible and should not be done.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted Bagheri at his presidential palace in Ankara with Turkey’s top general Hulusi Akar also in attendance, the presidency said.

A Kurdish state

Turkey and Iran have substantial Kurdish minorities and they vehemently oppose the plan by Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to organize a vote on independence on September 25.

Analysts have little doubt that the referendum would result in a ‘Yes’ for an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. But the result would be non-binding and leave the approximately five million Kurds of northern Iraq some way away from actual independence.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said the talks lasted 50 minutes. “Coordination for creating peace and security in Syria,” was also discussed, the IRNA report quoted Bagheri as saying.

Turkey and Iran lie on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, with Erdogan seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad to end the war. Tehran, along with Moscow, remain the Syrian leader’s key allies and backers.

But Turkey and Russia have been cooperating more over Syria in recent months, helping to extract civilians from Aleppo and then co-sponsoring peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Tense relations

Relations between Turkey and the Republic of Iran have on occasion been tense in recent years. The rise of militants in the province of Idlib, neighboring Turkey, has alarmed Ankara, Moscow and Tehran.

A senior official from Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards earlier said Bagheri’s trip was prompted by the presence of “terrorist groups” in the border area, without saying which ones.

“We are seeking a good agreement with Turkey to provide better security for Iranian and Turkish borders especially in the west and northwest,” said Guards spokesman General Ramezan Sharif, quoted by IRNA.