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Iran: Kurdish Achievements and Turkish Warnings

By: Meir Javedanfar


The last number of days have been a roller coaster for Iranian foreign policy. On the one hand, Iran scored a major success by hosting Nechirvan Barzani, who is the prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq. The Iranian educated Mr Barzani (studied three years at Tehran University), comes from a noble, and interesting Kurdish stock. His grandfather Mustafa Barzani, was the founder of KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party), and Massoud Barzani, who is his uncle, later became its head.

What is interesting is that Barzanis had a well know relationship with the government of Israel. According to several reports, it was Mustafa Barzani who sanctioned the presence of Mossad in the Kurdish region of Iraq from the early 60s to the mid 70s. Furthermore, recent reports that Israeli companies were helping Kurdish guerillas, talk of the Israelis operating in areas controlled by Massoud Barzani, indicating of an ongoing relationship between the two sides well into mid 2000, if not beyond.

But Nechirvan Barzani followed a different path. He became close to Iran, after his family were exiled by Saddam. He found refuge in Tehran, during the reign of the Shah. After the revolution, in which some Kurdish groups helped Ayatollah Khomeini, he managed to secure his stay in Iran, and was allowed to keep in touch with KDP elements in Iraq. He finally returned home in 1989 and pursued a very successful political career.

In another successful example of Iran’s soft power strategy, he, much like many Shiites who took refuge in Iran, did not forget the help he received. And now, he is repaying the favor.

One of the main goals of his trip to Tehran and meeting with Ahmadinejad is to secure Tehran’s backing, in the dispute over the oil rich city of Kirkuk. The Kurds want to include it in the Kurdish part of Iraq. But the Arabs (Sunnis) and Turkmens want it in Iraq, because they are worried that they may be persecuted, and more importantly, they may lose out on the oil windfalls. This dispute is one of the reasons behind the delay in the election bill in the Iraqi parliament.

Barzani’s request for help shows that now days, Iran not only has a say in oil rich southern Iraq where its Shiite allies live, it now also has a political and possibly economic say in relatively oil rich northern Iraq. Much in line with Iran’s post war strategy, Tehran is backing more than two sides in a conflict, successfully.

But it hasn’t all been good news for president Ahmadinejad. According to his account, during visit, Turkish president Abdullah Gul warned him against the “machinations of the Zionists”. But the Turks give a very different version of the encounter. According to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, Gul warned Ahmadinejad in the same way that he warned Iraq’s vice president Taha Yasin Ramadan in 2003, about the upcoming conflict with the United States, telling him (Ahmadinejad) to “avoid getting into an unwinnable war”.

The paper goes on to say:

Gül did not give Ramadan’s name when warning the Iranian leader but reminded him of the Iraq example when he said, We would not want anything to happen to our neighbor.

We would not want Tehran to be Baghdad”.

These are very tense warnings from a president who is close the US, EU, and Iran. This is also a country which needs Iran for its energy resources. The very fact that Gül chose to make his warning public shows that as he said to Ahmadinejad, “the political area for a peaceful solution is getting narrower. We are approaching critical developments”.

Indeed. Unfortunately.

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Posted on : Aug 19 2008
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Posted under Iran - Iraq |