Evolving relations between Iran and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
The relationship between Iran and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) will remain securitised in the short term due to the unresolved business of a return to the nuclear deal and its possible aftermath, the gradual reduction of the US military footprint in Iraq and the strengthening hold on power of Iran’s conservatives. Iran’s response to the Iraqi Kurdish referendum for independence in 2017 and its suppression of the revival of armed activity by Iranian Kurdish parties operating from Iraq makes it clear that Tehran does not hesitate to intervene to defend its security interests either. Iran is also likely to seek to counter growing Turkish intrusiveness in northern Iraq.
Because the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is currently weak and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) stuck between Turkey, dissatisfaction with its own rule and pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) sentiments among segments of Kurdish public opinion, the KRI is more vulnerable to Iranian and Turkish pressure than it used to be. In other words, dependency and dominance will continue to characterise the Iran-KRI relation to Tehran’s benefit for the foreseeable future. Ironically, deeper integration of the KRI into a federal Iraq could reduce this risk in the medium-term.
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