The Turbulent History Shaping Iran’s Opposition to an Independent Iraqi Kurdistan

The Turbulent History Shaping Iran’s Opposition to an Independent Iraqi Kurdistan
New recruits of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan train at their base, Koya, Iraq, Sept. 21, 2016 (AP photo by Maya Alleruzzo).

In late September, the Kurds of Iraq seemed to have moved one step closer to realizing their historic goal of gaining independence, when nearly 93 percent of voters backed a referendum to formally secede from Baghdad. Masoud Barzani, the former guerrilla leader who had served as president of the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, since 2005, went ahead with the poll despite fierce opposition from the governments of Iraq, Iran and Turkey, and mild opposition from the United States. When the results came in, Kurds took to the streets of Irbil, the regional capital, in celebration.

It soon became clear, however, that such revelry was premature. Turkey and Iran swiftly imposed a land and air blockade on Iraqi Kurdistan, while the central government in Baghdad launched a military offensive that led to the fall of Kirkuk, the contested oil-rich city that had been held by Kurdish forces since 2014. Barzani had gambled big and lost big; at the end of October, he was pressured into submitting his resignation.

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