In an unexpected diplomatic turn of events which underscores the seriousness of escalating tensions between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard (which last week were designated by the US as a terrorist organization), General Qassem Soleimani, arrived in Erbil on Sunday and met with Kurdistan regional president Masoud Barzani to discuss the growing crisis at a moment when Kurdish Peshmerga forces are blocking Iraqi Army access to Kirkuk oil fields and military installations.
Major General Qassem Soleimani reports directly to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and his elite force provides training and weapons to Iraqi paramilitary groups (PMU or Popular Mobilization Units) backing the Baghdad government. The meeting comes just after President Trump announced his new policy against Iran on Friday that includes designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization.
Though the Unites States officially backs the Iran-aligned Baghdad government in the Kurdistan crisis, Trump’s speech could signal a monumental shift in policy for Iraq. This as Kurdistan officials and media are highlighting Iran’s role in attempting to stamp out the Kurdish move for independence.
As we previously explained, last month’s Kurdistan referendum pushed Iraq into the arms of Iran when the relationship between Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi and Iranian officials was at its lowest level. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (and perhaps most Iraqis) now sees in Iran the only legitimate and sincere partner Iraq can count on, and can rely on the Iranian Army and the IRGC in the case of any broader military escalation against Kurdistan, particularly in the disputed Iraqi cities, with Kirkuk now topping the list.
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