CONTENT PREVIEW
Country Risk

Iranian-Turkish co-operation against Iraqi Kurds enhancing Iranian Kurds' cohesion, raising protest and terrorism risks in Iran

06 October 2017

Key Points

  • The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) independence referendum is driving Iranian, Iraqi, and Turkish co-operation aimed at containing Kurdish independence aspirations.
  • Iran is wary of a potential Kurdish state’s receptiveness to Israeli/US influence. But hostile Iranian actions risk alienating the KRG, which has the option of expanding support for Iranian Kurdish groups seeking greater autonomy in Iran.
  • Iran-Turkey co-operation is driving increasing cohesion among competing Iranian Kurdish groups, increasing the risk of a stronger Kurdish challenge to Iranian central authority. A potentially heavy-handed Iranian security response to Kurdish demonstrators would increase the risk of higher-capability Kurdish attacks on Iranian government targets beyond the border regions in Kurdish provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Ilam.

Event

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyeb Erdoğan visited Iran on 4 October, meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Iran Mohammad Bagheri, left, meets his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar on 2 October 2017 in Tehran, Iran. (Fatemeh Bahrami/ Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Iran Mohammad Bagheri, left, meets his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar on 2 October 2017 in Tehran, Iran. (Fatemeh Bahrami/ Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Erdoğan’s visit to Iran comes after the non-binding ‘yes’ vote for Kurdish independence by the KRG, following a similar high-level Iranian military visit to Turkey from 13-15 August. Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, all opposed the referendum but failed to persuade KRG President Masoud Barzani to cancel or postpone it.

In response to Barzani’s defiance, Iraqi and Turkish forces conducted joint military exercises along the Turkey-KRG border on 25 September. Iranian military forces, including the regular army (Artesh) and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) also held joint military exercises with unspecified Iraqi military units along the Iran-KRG border on 2 October. The IRGC and Artesh also held exercises on 24 September along the border, in Iran’s West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces, particularly near Parviz Khan, a major Iran-KRG border crossing.

Iran’s concerns

Iran’s military exercises along the KRG border intended to put pressure on the KRG. Iran is extremely unlikely to take unilateral military action against the KRG, but would almost certainly support the Iraqi government should Iraq choose to do so.

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