Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds force. Photo: AP/file
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Iranian Quds commander, Qasem Soleimani, has visited Sulaimani amid increasing talks of Kurdistan Region independence, Rudaw has learned.
A senior Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) official, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to Rudaw that Soleimani visited the Kurdish city.
According to the Arab-language newspaper Sharq al-Awsat, Soleimani was meeting with members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in an attempt to discourage a referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region.
Hossein Yazdanpanah, deputy head of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in Iran, told the paper that the head of Iran’s elite Quds force had two main goals in his meetings with PUK leaders in Sulaimani.
The first is to attempt to obstruct the Kurdistan Region’s referendum process.
Iran has said that it supports the territorial integrity of Iraq. “The unity of Iraq and sustainable security in that country is of prime importance for us,” Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani told the secretary general of Kurdistan’s Islamic Union Party Salaheddin Bahaeddin in February.
According to Yazdanpanah, Iran is worried an independent Kurdistan will change the political geography of the Middle East by becoming a democratic state, forming a close alliance with the United States, and preventing Iranian hopes of creating a route of friendly allies through Syria.
“Iran will try it is best to stop the referendum process,” he told Sharq al-Awsat.
A committee formed jointly by the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on the weekend met with foreign consulates in Erbil, including Iran, to discuss plans to hold a referendum on independence this year.
The hope is that Kurdistan Region neighbours “do not see this newborn entity as a threat to their security and stability,” said government spokesperson Safeen Dizayee.
Iran, like Turkey, has its own restive Kurdish population.
Soleimani’s second reason for visiting Kurdistan Region, according to Yazdanpanah, was to try to drive apart the PUK and KDP, who have been working closely together, holding multiple high-level meetings and coordinating over the referendum issue.
A high level official in the PUK told Sharq al-Awsat anonymously that Soleimani had requested the PUK to not make any deals with the KDP, and to support former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Reacting to Soleimani’s visit to the Kurdistan Region, UAE Police Deputy Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan took to Twitter to demand the Iranian leave the Region.
Khalfan said it was time for the Kurds, the ancestors of Salahaddin al-Ayoubi, to “announce your independent country, and I am the first of Prophet Mohammad’s people to recognize your country.”
He added that Kurds are a generous people and do not deserve such treatment from their neighbours.