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Iran sees challenge of Kurdish referendum as opportunity

After being taken aback by the Kurdish independence vote, Iran is now evolving to view the referendum as an opportunity to forge practical cooperation with affected neighboring states.

Up until the last day before the Sept. 25 Kurdish independence referendum, Iran was still dealing with the event with a sense of disbelief and with the misconception that it would be called off at the last moment. The assumption was that the de facto head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, was only maneuvering to negotiate a better deal with the central government in Baghdad with respect to the region’s autonomy — on both the political and the economic side. Iran thought that Barzani was looking for Iranian-Turkish support for future talks, while already having an American green light to escalate to the edge of the abyss, and that things would then be better.

This was the case when Iranian Chief of General Staff Mohammad Bagheri visited Ankara and met with high-level Turkish officials and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August. And even when Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani visited Iraqi Kurdistan to convince the Kurdish leadership to “delay the vote,” Tehran was still dealing with the whole story from a perspective that could easily be described as one of denial. This policy continued until the moment the Kurds announced that the referendum returned a big "yes," with almost 93% of votes in favor of independence.

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