18:35 GMT06 June 2020
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    The Kurdistan Region's upcoming independence vote has prompted concerns among Iranian observers who believe that Kurdistan's secession could trigger a domino effect across the Middle East. Speaking to Sputnik, Iranian experts shared their views regarding Tehran's response to the potential declaration of independence of Iraqi Kurdistan.

    While the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is preparing for the much-discussed independence referendum, neighboring states are voicing concerns about the potential implications of the move; however, speaking to Sputnik, Iranian experts admitted that Tehran will respect the results of the vote.

    Earlier in June, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani announced that the referendum will take place on September 25.

    "The Islamic Republic [of Iran] has always resolutely supported the territorial integrity of Iraq and considers it its 'red line'. However, in recent years there have been significant changes in foreign policy, in particular, after Javad Zarif's appointment as the Foreign Minister. Although [Iran] signaled its support for the territorial integrity of Iraq, it was also announced that Tehran would uphold in diplomatic terms the reached agreement between the official Baghdad and the Kurds," Ardashir Pashang, a ‎researcher at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS) and expert in the Kurdish issue, told Sputnik Iran.

    That said, one should take into account that the Kurds and the central government of Iraq have yet to reach agreement on many issues, Pashang highlighted.

    "Therefore, if we assume that the results of the referendum will [show] the majority of votes [for independence] and the establishment of an independent Kurdistan state will be announced, then Iran, diplomatically, will show respect for the results of the referendum," the expert pointed out.

    Pashang recalled that in the course of the recent meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Supreme Leader of Iran Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the latter stressed that Tehran doesn't agree with the idea of the separation of Kurdistan.

    "Some regarded the words of Ayatollah Khamenei as interference," the expert said, "But this does not mean that Iran will be ready for military or political interference, [in case Iraqi Kurdistan declares independence]. This is just our position: Iran, as always, insists on the territorial integrity of Iraq."

    "Today, Iraq is a hotbed of violence and instability, plunged into conflicts and crises. Therefore, the [independence] issue must be solved exclusively in a diplomatic manner. The declaration of independence of [Iraqi] Kurdistan is possible, but this will lead to the further escalation of tension in Iraq, and yet even another civil war," Pashang believes.

    Seyyed Hadi Afghahi, former diplomat of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, political analyst and expert on the problems of the Middle East, echoes Pashang.

    Afghahi believes that the declaration of independence of Iraqi Kurdistan will not only lead to the fragmentation of Iraq, but also trigger a chain reaction resulting in the division of Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan.

    "The idea of ​​creating an independent Kurdistan has been crystallizing for years. The Kurds have already gained a lot on this path: they have obtained autonomy in Iraq, their own parliament, leader (Masoud Barzani), prime minister," the former diplomat told Sputnik Iran.

    However, Afghahi continued, after Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) began gaining ground in the region Barzani apparently decided to take advantage of the situation to declare complete separation from Iraq and the creation of an independent Kurdistan.

    According to the former Iranian diplomat, it won't do any good to Iraq and the region in general.

    The Islamic Republic of Iran's position is that it primarily favors the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq, Afghahi highlighted.

    "We [Iran] will never under any circumstances support separatism in any country: be it Iraq, Syria, Yemen or Lebanon," the former diplomat stressed.

    Still, Afghahi remains skeptical about the possibility of the Kurdistan Region's secession from Iraq.

    "While communicating with the Kurds who were close to Masoud Barzani, I've learned that even they are against the complete separation and proclamation of a separate Kurdistan state," Afghahi told Sputnik.

    "They are convinced that this will lead not only to a complete blockade or isolation, but even to war. Iran opposes such a scenario, Turkey is also against it. Supporters of [former President of Iraq] Jalal Talabani are also against it. They claim that [the declaration of independence] 'will strangle themselves in their own prison'," the former diplomat elaborated.

    "As they say, 'Syria, Iran, Turkey and the central government in Baghdad will take us into a blockade, so who needs such independence?! The country will be simply cut off from the outside world.' All this tells us that even among the Kurds there is no agreement whether to secede from Iraq and declare the establishment of an independent state in the Middle East," Afghahi pointed out.

    "Given the unified position of Turkey, Syria and Iran on this issue, it is unlikely that Masud Barzani will be able to translate his dream into reality," Afghahi concluded.


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    Kurds, independence referendum, independence, Daesh, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Masoud Barzani, Javad Zarif, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Russia, Middle East, Yemen
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