Iran and Turkey on Monday said they were stepping up military cooperation, including large-scale war games and counterterrorismoperations, in the wake of Iraqi Kurdistan’s historic independence referendum vote.
Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri and Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar announced the plans during a press conference in Tehran. Gen. Akar is also expected to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his visit Monday, which comes days before Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Tehrani.
“We held talks on the common threats [Iran and Turkey], and also on the referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region with an emphasis on the maintenance of Iraq’s integrity and rejection of the referendum,” Gen. Baqeri told reporters Monday in Tehran.
Iran and Turkey, a NATO member, overwhelmingly opposed the non-binding referendum vote, over fears the move could ignite independence movements by Kurdish populations in their own countries. Both countries have “made the necessary decisions” to cooperate militarily, in order to curb any similar efforts by Iranian or Turkish Kurds seeking political or geographical autonomy in either state, Gen. Baqeri said, according to Tasnim News Agency.
Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi ordered all airspace above Iraqi Kurdistan closed to commercial air traffic, until Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government or KRG, hands over control of the regions airports to Baghdad.
Washington is also vehemently opposed to the Kurdish referendum, with the White House claiming it would derail the campaign to drive Islamic State out of the country. Critics call the movea thinly veiled power grab by Mr. Barzani, who they argue is attempting to expand Kurdistan’s territorial borders outlined in the Iraqi constitution.
The referendum vote came days before Kurdish peshmerga militia forces were set to deploy alongside Iraqi units to oust ISIS from the northern Iraqi town of Hawija.
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