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Iran and Turkey Squeeze Iraq’s Kurds

The merger of the dominant political parties within Kurdish Iraq, Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), while very good for the long-suffering Kurds within Iraq, poses all sorts of problems for Kurdish Iraq’s neighboring states, Iran and Turkey. As the Iraqi Kurds seek to increasingly speak with one public voice while arriving at it more and more via internal wrangling, it solidifies their position’s strength within the Iraqi government and affords it both increased power and options going forward, should the Iraqi government falter and/or the security situation sink below tolerable levels.

Iran and Turkey plainly and openly fear the Iraqi Kurds and their ability to embolden the Kurds within each country towards active separatist movements, eventually seeking to establish a Kurdistan comprised of swaths of present-day Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

It is within this context that Turkey and Iran have been massing troops and artillery to their borders with Iraq. Neither country wants the civil war that will ensue as Kurds would eventually seek to take with them a swath of land from which to create a contiguous Kurdistan from the corners of Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

With this as a principal motivating factor, the relationship between the Turkish and the Iranian governments continues to warm. The two are looking to expand parliamentary ties and build closer diplomatic relationships as Iran’s Expediency Council Chairman, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, noted that the two have common security concerns in region. Rafsanjani said, “Iran and Turkey are great states with effective role[s] in the region. Neighborhood and common grounds between Iran and Turkey in terms of religious and cultural affinity serve to develop Tehran-Ankara relations.” Both he and Turkish Ambassador Gurcan Turkoglu mentioned stability in Iraq and the Palestinian issue, but did not publicly address directly the elephant in both their living rooms, the Kurds.

But the elephant can be clearly seen if not heard. And, this elephant will remain for far longer than the American and coalition forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.


Hi Steve,

I wonder how many Iranian or Turkish Kurds have already migrated to Kurdish Iraq? Do you know how free flowing movement is across less-traveled areas of the border? I would think the way Kurdish Iraq is blossoming that it would be a magnet for migration, even though Kurds across the border would be reluctant to leave their homelands.


On traveling across the borders, I tend to believe it's probably a lot like the US-Mexico border. Patrolled in major areas with checkpoints (this much we know) but porous in others (probably most). Where there is a will, there is a way. This is why Turkey and Iran have taken positions.

There is surely truth to their claims that Iraqi Kurd elements are coming in from Iraq, as well. Again, they fear an uprising (simultaneous and inspired by free Kurds of Iraq) and a challenge to their sovereignty.

Cultural 'Kurdistan' spans across both borders and the populations are majority Kurdish for significant swaths. Neither country is prepared to cede thousands and thousands ofsquare miles of real estate.

Sticky situation. No matter how justified on paper, there is little anyone should do to assist the current theocratic dictatorship in Iran.

Turkey is a perplexing situation altogether. Consider that, as they are cooperating with Iran as the West is locked in a stare-down with Iran, Turkey has 50 years of NATO membership under her belt. Imagine that. As the West is nearing the end of the diplomatic line with Iran, a NATO member is coordinating military operations with them.

Perhaps this is being quietly exploited for whatever conventional military intelligence can be gleaned. Who knows. But their conventional forces are of quite little concern. It is their nuclear sprint and their terrorist units headed up by the IRGC that need probing.

There's still a foul aftertaste left behind by Turkish denial of a ground entry point into northern Iraq in 2003, at least in military circles.

Is there still such an attitude prevailing, or might there be some small measure of kiss & make up that can be leveraged?

I don't know, but one thing is for sure...regardless of the geopolitical realities of an Iraq Kurdistan with an eye towards a non-Iraqi Kurdistan and what it means for both Turkey and Iran, a NATO member and ally holding hands coordinating military operations with Iran...well...it's hard to even mouth the words.