The Parviz-Khan border crossing between Iran and the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw
Despite public pronouncements from Tehran opposing the Kurdistan Region's bid to hold an independence referendum on September 25 Iran has actually shown a keen interest in expanding its business interactions with the autonomous region in recent months.
Before the economic crisis began in 2014 Iranian imports to Kurdistan amounted to $8 billion a year. This has since declined to approximately $4 billion. The Kurdistan Region's exports to Iran are negligible in comparison.
Iranians are also conscious of the fact that Turkey has invested much more heavily in the Kurdistan Region than they have managed to date.
As Abdullah Akria, director of the Kurdistan Region's relations with Iran, explained in an April interview with Kurd Press: “Generally Iranian companies show less interest in investing in Kurdistan than their Turkish counterparts. Nevertheless, there are a number of Iranian companies here.”
Many of these companies are small, he explained, adding that Turkey showed a greater interest in investing in Iraqi Kurdistan “from the start.” As a direct result Turkey today is “more closely linked to the region economically.”
According to Akria trade between the Kurdistan Region and Iran used to be “between $8-10 billion while trade with the south of Iraq was $4-5 billion.”
“But now it's reversed,” he explained, “Our current economic ties with southern Iraq have reached $8 or $9 billion, while trade between Iran and the Kurdistan Region has fallen to $4-5 billion.”
While Turkey's investments in Iraq are primarily in the Kurdistan Region, Iran's investment and general sphere of influence is in Iraq's Shiite-majority south, where it has many more investments.
Attendees to business conferences held in both Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan expressed hopes that this will change. On May 24 in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran's Kurdistan Province, Kamal Hosseini, the head of the Sanandaj Chamber of Commerce, attended the Sanandaj-Erbil Business Conference.
“Iranian Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are very close in terms of culture and customs, which can help to increase trade,” Hosseini said at the event, according to Iranian Students' News Agency. “Unfortunately, this area is not used well, we have to improve this.”
On July 8, a meeting was hosted by the Head of the Union of Importers and Exporters of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Sheikh Mustafa Abdulrahman, who welcomed the visiting Iranian Trade Council. Since this meeting two protocols have been signed which will see the commencement of trade exchanges valued at around $200 million, with most trade to be conducted between the Kurdistan Region and Iran's Hamadan province.
Abdulrahman told Rudaw in August
that trade offices will be opened in Erbil and Tehran, signifying that trade relations are increasing. He has received assurances from the Iranians that, despite Tehran's staunch stance against the looming referendum, the border will remain open and trade will increase.
At the July meeting Iraqi President Fuad Masum's economic advisor, expressed his gratitude to Iran.
“Iran is a friend of our hard days. We were guests of the Iranians for a while,” he said, according to Iran's Taavon Online, referring to past decades when Kurds sought refuge in Iran when they were subjected to numerous massacres by the Saddam Hussein regime.
“The large volume of foreign trade and trade with Iran, due to the present conditions in the region, has declined,” he continued. “But in the future we hope to see a further boom in foreign trade with Iran, especially from Hamadan Province. We want to have a better presence in Iraq.”
“The rivals, including Turkey, have an active presence [in the Kurdistan Region],” he concluded, “We hope that Iran can find its true place.”