The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned Iraq’s ambassador to Tehran on May 13 and lodged a strong protest over the presence of Iranian Kurdish opposition parties at an official ceremony attended by high-ranking Iraqi officials.
Two days earlier, the Iranian delegation, led by Iran’s consul-general in Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region, left the opening ceremony for the Barzani National Museum, a memorial to Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani.
To discuss these developments, IranWire spoke with Mohammad Saleh Ghaderi, member of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, and Ali Awni of the central committee of Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. Both were present at the inauguration ceremony.
Who Were the Guests at the Museum’s Opening Ceremony?
The opening ceremony for the Barzani National Museum were held on May 11 in Barzan, near Erbil. Masoud Barzani, the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and the son of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, invited Iraq’s President Abdul Latif Rashid, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani and a number of Iraqi Sunni and Shia leaders. Representatives of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Kurdistan Freedom Party and Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan were also present.
The US ambassador to Iraq was also among the attendees, and a letter by the former President George W. Bush to Masoud Barzani was read during the ceremony.
Why Did Representatives of the Islamic Republic Left the Ceremonies?
The presence of parties opposed to the Islamic Republic was met with a harsh reaction by Iran’s consul-general in Erbil, especially because Mustafa Hijri, leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, was placed in the front row of the guests.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Iraqi ambassador to Tehran on May 13, telling him that inviting “secessionist” and “terrorist” groups to the ceremony was a violation of a recent security agreement between the two countries.
On March 19, Iran and Iraq signed an agreement which, according to Iraqi officials, was aimed primarily at tightening the border with Iraq's Kurdish region, where Tehran says armed Kurdish dissidents pose a threat to its security. "Under the signed security deal, Iraq pledges it would not allow armed groups to use its territory in the Iraqi Kurdish region to launch any border-crossing attacks on neighboring Iran," said an Iraqi security official who attended the signing ceremony.
After the outbreak of nationwide protests in Iran in September 2022, the Islamic Republic accused Iranian opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan of provoking unrest and using Iraqi territory against Iran. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has repeatedly launched missile and drone attacks against bases of Iranian Kurdish groups deep inside Iraqi Kurdistan, and Tehran has demanded that these groups be disarmed and their bases and camps be dismantled.
What Was the Reaction of Kurdish Parties to the Iranian Delegation’s Protest?
“During the ceremony we were informed by our hosts that the Islamic Republic’s consul-general and his delegation had left the ceremony,” Mohammad Saleh Ghaderi tells IranWire.
He describes the move as undiplomatic, “medieval, and as a clear example of the Islamic Republic’s denial of Kurdish identity.
“Representatives of the Islamic Republic showed the true nature of the Islamic Republic, which for a long time has denied the question of Kurds in Iran," Ghaderi says. "It was also an expression of its hatred toward solidarity and union among the Kurds across the four parts of Kurdistan [in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey] in an official ceremony.”
Was the Ceremony a Political Act?
Ghaderi explains the reason why Iranian Kurdish parties were invited: “The inauguration of the Barzani National Museum was in no way political. It was a ceremony to honor and commemorate the historical struggles of Kurds, especially those led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, a well-know Kurdish leader. Also, part of the museum is dedicated to the historical role played by the Barzanis, led by the late Mullah Mustafa, in the Republic of Kurdistan under President Qazi Muhammad, founder of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. This is why special attention was paid to the presence of this party at the ceremony.”
The Republic of Kurdistan, also known as the Republic of Mahabad, was a short-lived Kurdish republic founded on January 22, 1946, in the region occupied by Soviet Union during World war II. Qazi Muhammad was sworn in as president of this republic, which lasted 11 months until December 15, when forces of the Iranian central government reoccupied the region after Soviet forces left. Then Qazi Mohammad and his allies were executed by the shah’s government. The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan was founded a day after the Republic of Mahabad was established.
According to Ghaderi, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan did not protest the presence of the Islamic Republic’s delegation at the ceremony out of respect for the hosts and due to diplomatic protocols.
Does the Government of Iraq’s Kurdistan Consider Iranian Kurdish Parties as Terrorist Groups?
“Just minutes after the ceremony started and after the wreath was laid, the head of the Islamic Republic's delegation asked why terrorist groups had been invited to the event, and they left after expressing their unhappiness,” Ali Awni says, quoting a host.
“We had invited the Iranian government along with other representatives of foreign countries, and we would have liked for them to stay with us until the end of the ceremony. But we could not ignore part of the Kurdish nation in Iranian Kurdistan and exclude them.”
Do Iranian Kurdish Parties Use Iraqi Soil Against the Islamic Republic?
Referring to repeated missile and drone attacks on positions of Iranian Kurdish parties deep inside Iraqi Kurdistan by the IRGC in the past few months, Awni says, “The Islamic Republic has been repeatedly told that camps where the parties are based are deep inside the Kurdistan Region, far from the borders of Iran, and they pose no threat to them. These parties’ camps are also where the refugees, their families and members of the political opposition to the Islamic Republic live. Although they have a very limited number of light weapons, these weapons are for keeping themselves safe, not for waging war against the Islamic Republic.”
According to Awni, parties opposed to the Islamic Republic, along with political refugees and their families, have been in these camps for over 30 years and, throughout that period, they have always adhered to the interests of the government of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and have never used its territory against the Islamic Republic.
“By launching repeated missile and drone attacks on the positions of the opposition in the past few months, the Islamic Republic has been committing an injustice both against us (the Iraqi Kurdistan Region) and against political refugees and their families who live in these camps" he adds.
Islamic Republic Policies Have Driven the Opposition to Iraqi Kurdistan
Awni insists that the presence of political activists who oppose the Islamic Republic in these camps and of the refugees who have fled Iran with their families and children is not the cause but the result of the Islamic Republic's policies: “If the Islamic Republic responds to the demands of Kurds in a peaceful manner and talks with the opposition in order to solve the issue of Kurds in Iranian Kurdistan, there can be no doubt that many of the problems and tensions would be solved. Besides, even if all the Kurds in the Middle East were to disappear, the problems of the Islamic Republic would not be solved. There is no other solution except negotiations.”