Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani meeting with Khamenei on May 7, 2024

Tehran Seeks to Resolve Complex Relations with Iraqi Kurds

Saturday, 05/11/2024

Nechirvan Barzani, the President of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, made an unexpected visit to Iran this week, where he met with top leaders, sparking strong criticism from opponents of the Iranian regime.

During his visit, Barzani engaged with key figures of the government, including the Supreme Leader, heads of executive and legislative bodies, the commander-in-chief of the IRGC, the foreign minister, and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

The timing and nature of Barzani's visit, coming months after the IRGC's missile attack on the Kurdistan Region, raise questions about its motives. The high-profile meetings suggest that the discussions likely focused on mutual security concerns.

This trip took place against a backdrop of three significant issues: Firstly, Iran's missile and drone attacks on targets within the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, purportedly aimed at Israeli agents, elicited protests from both Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi central government. Secondly, the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region, scheduled for June 10, 2024, face controversy as the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) has announced its intention to boycott the elections. Lastly, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) has made a request for the disarmament and complete expulsion of Iranian Kurdish armed groups sheltering in the Kurdish regions of Iraq.

Am Iranian missile attack on the Kurdish city of Erbil in Iraq in 2022

The backdrop of recent events provides context for the objectives of the Iraqi Kurdish leaders' trip to Iran, though the outcomes remain uncertain due to the reticence of both parties involved.

This visit aimed to achieve three main objectives: 1) renegotiate mutual security arrangements, 2) mitigate threats posed by Tehran against the Iraqi Kurdish region, and 3) facilitate mediation by the Islamic Republic among conflicting political entities to reduce regional tensions.

In the realm of security, the Kurdistan Regional Government, whose high-ranking members have maintained long-standing relationships with Tehran, seeks to halt the regime's missile attacks. For this purpose, President Barzani aimed to reassure Iranian authorities that the regional government would not permit any group, faction, or country to launch actions against Iran or other neighboring nations. Additionally, following the unsuccessful independence referendum in 2017, the Kurdish authorities are attempting to mitigate Iranian threats through dialogue, promoting a narrative of a united Iraq.

In terms of political mediation, the Kurdish authorities are seeking Iran's intervention to reconcile differences between the two major Kurdish parties—the Iraqi Kurdistan Patriotic Union and the Kurdistan Democratic Party—and the Iraqi central government, particularly concerning disputes over regional elections.

Which objectives can be achieved?

The first goal—re-establishing a stable security relationship—seems attainable given the generally tension-free relations between the regional authorities and the Islamic Republic, unless the latter opts to demonstrate its strength by targeting structures within the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. However, there are significant doubts regarding the Iraqi Kurds' ability to fully avoid provocations from the Iranian regime, which sometimes launches attacks on its neighbors for reasons of prestige and maintaining its image.

Regarding the third objective, Tehran’s influence is constrained; it tends to favor military actions over diplomatic engagements with countries like the United States and Israel, and often does not take steps towards easing regional tensions. This preference for military approaches over diplomacy underscores the challenges in achieving mediation and conflict resolution in the region.


Two prominent reactions to Barzani’s visit to Iran have emerged on social media. The first comes from Kurds who oppose Iran’s Islamic government; they expressed their discontent with Barzani for seemingly disregarding Tehran’s attacks on Kurds in the region and accused him of pandering during his meeting with Khamenei. Additionally, some Iranian opposition constitutional monarchists are also displeased with the visit, perceiving it as potentially encouraging separatist sentiments among Iraqi Kurds, which they fear might influence Iranian Kurds as well.

In another development, Iraqi journalist Ahmad Abdulsadeh reported that during the visit, Barzani provided a written commitment to the Iranian authorities, wherein Erbil officials pledged to disarm "terrorist groups" and ensure their removal from the Kurdistan Region. This commitment reportedly also includes a promise to curb attacks on the Iranian regime by media outlets like Rudaw and Kurdistan 24, and to control their coordination with foreign media entities. However, implementing these commitments could prove challenging and may lead to internal tensions within the region.

More News