Iran Closes Airspace To Iraqi Kurdistan Ahead Of Historic Independence Vote

The diplomatic and economic noose is tightening around Iraqi Kurdistan one day ahead of its historic independence referendum. On Sunday, the Iranian government announced closure of its airspace to northern Iraq's Sulaimani and Erbil Airports, at the request of Iraqi authorities. The Baghdad government has repeatedly threatened military intervention in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region should the vote proceed on Monday, which Baghdad warns could provoke invasion by neighboring states. The United States too has warned that the non-binding referendum will be “particularly provocative and destabilizing” - this as Turkey musters tanks along its border with Iraqi Kurdistan. 

On Sunday the Iranian Supreme Security Council announced through state media that, “At the request of the Iraqi central government, Iranian airspace has been closed on all flights that originate from Kurdistan Region.” The move comes after a month's worth of warnings that Iran could close its borders to Iraqi Kurdistan should the independence vote proceed. Iranian government officials had previously warned that, “The republic of Iran has opened its legitimate border gates on the premise of the consent of the federal government of the Iraqi state. If such an event [referendum] happens, these border gates from the perspective of the Islamic Republic of Iran would lose its legitimacy."

Kurdistan referendum ballot book held by an employee from the Independent High Electoral Referendum Commission. Image source: AFP

Iran worries that an independent Kurdistan at its border would be a destabilizing force concerning Iran's own sizable Kurdish minority. Iran also reportedly launched Revolutionary Guard led military drills in its northwest region bordering Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday.

Likewise Turkey has for the past week amassed tanks and troops along its border with Iraq, while reportedly conducting "anti-terror operations" in Kurdish areas of the country. In a geographic sense Turkey would play a key economic lifeline for the completely landlocked Iraqi Kurdistan region. But Turkey's Parliament voted Saturday to renew for one year a mandate authorizing military intervention across Iraq's border should Turkey's national security come under threat.

Over the weekend the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil saw tens of thousands of Kurds flood the streets demonstrating in support of an independent Kurdistan. However, protests against the planned referendum broke out in other areas of Iraq. Violence also began to hit the region as an IED killed four Iraqi Kurdish soldiers and injured over a dozen more in the province of Kirkuk, an area where the referendum is set to be held. 

Arab parts of the country have voiced frustration that such a divisive move would come at a key moment in the fight against ISIS. The fact that Israel is the only outside country voicing official support for Kurdish independence is also deeply controversial. 

Map source: International Iran Times

On Sept. 13 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stunned the region when he commented specifically of the referendum saying, "Israel supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state" (though he's made similar statements starting in 2014). Netanyahu noted further that Israel still considers the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist group.

Other current and former Israeli officials have made bolder and more detailed statements, however. The former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Major General Yair Golan told a national security policy conference in Washington D.C. in early September that he believes establishing a Greater Kurdistan (a state that will include the Kurdish-populated territories of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey) in the Middle East could be a positive stabilizing force in the region. He also said that he personally does not be believe the PKK to be a terrorist organization. 

Israel's public stance provoked a quiet diplomatic war with Turkey, which Israel accuses of supporting Hamas. Turkey has for years accused Israel of forging a secretive vengeful alliance with the PKK due to Turkey's pro-Palestine statehood position. But Israel has consistently pointed to what it perceives as Turkish hypocrisy in failing to designated Hamas a terror organization. Furthermore, Iranian state media has frequently equated an independent Kurdistan with Israeli plans to Balkanize the region as part of a "divide and rule" policy in the region. 

But despite signs of looming destabilization ahead of Monday's vote, it appears Kurdish authorities in Erbil are determined to see the referendum through, no matter the consequences.

Quoted by Bloomberg, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani said in televised news conference that Iraq’s Kurds "reached conclusion that only through independence can we secure our future" and said he is ready to engage in "very long" talks with Iraq govt on borders, oil, gas, water after the vote. He also added that the Iraq, Kurdistan partnership failed after Baghdad violated the constitution.

Like in Germany, Barzani urged voters to head to polls and maintain a "peaceful process" while saying that Peshmerga forces will continue cooperation with Iraqi troops and the U.S.-led coalition in the "fight against terror."

Barzani also said that referendum is not a threat to Turkey’s national security, and added that he "doesn’t expect military confrontation with Iraq after referendum", a rather clear hint that military confrontation with Iraq after the expected vote to break away may be inevitable. To be sure, Iraq Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said in televised speech that Kurdistan’s problems are "a result of corruption, mismanagement of public money" adding that a referendum would only exacerbate such issues.

Finally, addressing Iran's closure of airspace, he said that it was Tehran’s decision.


carlnpa Sun, 09/24/2017 - 11:47 Permalink

Today is GOLD Star Mothers Day.  Overpaid players spitting on the Gold Star MothersGold Star Mother’s Day is observed in the United States on the last Sunday of September each year. It is a day for people to recognize and honor those who have lost a son or daughter while serving the United States Armed Forces.This will be epic later today - disrespecting Gold Star Mothers.;_ylt=A0LEV1_vvcdZjsMAg1VXN...The last Sunday in September is also Parents of Fallen Military Sons and Daughters Day in New Jersey. This day is a tribute to all parents whose children died as a result of their service with the United States Armed Forces. It commemorates the contributions, commitments and sacrifices made by those parents individually and through the American Gold Star Mothers, 

Gorgeous Sun, 09/24/2017 - 11:59 Permalink

Of course Israel would be in support of anything that Balkanizes the Shia Crescent.  interesting US play here.  Turkey is the wild card.

ogretown Sun, 09/24/2017 - 11:59 Permalink

The first thing I always look at is the position of the Juden. They are neck and neck with Saudi Arabia as the most destabilizing force in the region. Apparently the Juden are pro Kurd independence.  But on the positive side, it is encouraging the Iraqi's and Iranian Government appear to be moving closer.  And the best move in all of this is the announcement that Turkish forces are mobilizing. If Turkey leads the way in crushing any attempt at land appropriation, there is no way NATO would dare interfere with another NATO country.  But if that is not the case we may be on the precipice of the formation of a powerful new regional union that should have major regional impact. On one side the Coalition of Courage - Russia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria - facing off against the Coalition of Clowns - America, Israel, Saudi Arabia and whatever regional pickaninny Arab states the Clownage can cooerce into putting on clown paint.   

veritas semper… Lucky Leprachaun Sun, 09/24/2017 - 22:22 Permalink

The Syrian PM outlined the huge role Israel played in helping ISIS/AlQaeda in Syria,when he spoke at UNGA.he said it was no surprize as Israel's goals are similar with the terrorists ' goals.Haha!The Russian army spokeman showed pictures of US personnel and assets in ISIS held territories in Deir Ezzor and asked "how come there is no attack on these?".He said US is just pretending it is fighting terrorists,instead it is colluding with them.As for Kurdistan,if Turkey closes its border to them,they are done.And Turkey is going to do it,as a Kurdish state is the biggest threat for them.Erdogan might try to gain something from this sad show,but ,Kurdistan is a dead end for US/Israel.

In reply to by Lucky Leprachaun

max_leering Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:24 Permalink

of course the juden are pro-kurdistan... their oil comes from there, and what's stolen from Syria... barzani and nutty-yahoo are twin sons of different moms

BritBob Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:24 Permalink

What will the UN Secretary General say?  Catalonia and Gibraltar,Catalonia’s push for independence from Spain is illegitimate, as the region has not been recognized by the United Nations as a non-autonomous territory, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Spanish media.When one speaks of self-determination, certain areas have been recognized by the United Nations as non-autonomous territories. But Catalonia does not fall into this category,” Ban said in an interview with Spanish newspapers El Pais, El Mundo, ABC and La Vanguardia. (31 Oct 2015) Gibraltar – Self-Determination (single page):

any_mouse Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:28 Permalink

""doesn’t expect military confrontation with Iraq after referendum", a rather clear hint that military confrontation with Iraq after the expected vote to break away may be inevitable."

"Doesn't expect" equates to "may be inevitable"

I have to get a decoder ring like the author's.

Does a box of Cracker Jack still come with a toy?

Anonymous (not verified) Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:40 Permalink

Netenyahu practically  makes evil, lying, manipulation, division, and terrorism as common as coffee and tea.

Broken_Trades Oldrepublic Sun, 09/24/2017 - 13:46 Permalink

Good point.  Might take a day for announcement to take affect.  If yu had clicked over to the 25th or 26th you would notice a couple things:1.) No more flights to Iran2.) All Qatar Airways flights are cancelled.  Qatar flies up into Turkey and down the same route as all of the jets going to the UAE.  Guess they wont fly over Iraq or aren't allowed.BT

In reply to by Oldrepublic

DrData02 Sun, 09/24/2017 - 13:30 Permalink

Freedom.  Tell it to the Catalonians as well as the Kurds.  The right to self-determination is subject to the will of the ruling class and their military goons.  (I.E. it doesn't exist.)

redmudhooch Sun, 09/24/2017 - 14:00 Permalink

(((They))) know the gig is up.False flags are coming, to trick us into turning on each other.They're trying hard to get us to kill each other, take your eyes off of them.Don't let them trick you into turning on your neighbors.They know we're onto them.

WTFUD Sun, 09/24/2017 - 15:58 Permalink

How many barrels of Oil will Israel-BP-Exxon get their grubby bloodstained mitts on in an Independent Kurdistan, that is the question?

dishman1966 Sun, 09/24/2017 - 20:03 Permalink

" Iran told Iraq"is like me telling myself something.  Iran controls Iraq.    I feel sorry for Kurds as they seem reasonable and share our values.