Alwaght- The Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani's visit to Iran gave a chance to Iran to share its concerns about the security challenges posed to its territory and peace from the Iraqi depth with the highest Iraqi political and military official. After ISIS defeat in Iraq, now massive movements by anti-Iranian separatist groups are afresh raising concerns and bringing security issues to the top agenda of the diplomatic talks of the two neighbors.
In his meeting with the Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Iran's Supreme Leader Seyyed Ali Khamenei referred to the destabilizing moves of terrorist groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan region against the Iranian territory and national interests, saying that this is now happening from some areas of Iraq and the only solution is Iraqi central government extending its authority to those areas as well. In response, al-Sudani stated that the security of Iran and Iraq are not separate from each other and emphasized that according to the constitution, Iraq will not allow any party to use its soil to undermine security in the region.
In recent months, security issues have become a challenge in the relations between Iran and Iraq, and the presence of terrorist groups in the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, which incite riots in Iranian cities, and the subsequent missile attacks by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the headquarters of these groups, have led to the sharp reaction of Tehran officials. Iran has demanded an end to the activities of these groups, and stressed that this issue requires Iraqi government undertaking its management as it is responsible for providing security for the borders.
Baghdad measures and requirements to secure the borders
Although border security is the responsibility of the central government, political insecurity and instability in Iraq have created many problems in the implementation of the army's duties. According to the provisions of the Iraqi federal constitution, all military and security affairs are under the supervision of the government and the prime minister, and since the army is the largest military institution in this country, border security is one of its duties. In the past years, due to the ISIS terrorist group's emergence in the western regions of Iraq, the leaders of the Kurdish autonomous region tried to use the weakness of the central government and strengthen their positions and fortifications, and the army forces, who were busy fighting terrorists and establishing security inside, did not pay attention to the borders. The insecurity on the borders grew so serious that security of the neighbors was compromised.
Meanwhile, the US supported the Kurds by providing them with arms, to strengthen them for post-ISIS stage and prepare them for its destructive programs in the region. The threats to the Iranian and Turkish borders from northern Iraq is because of the absence of the Iraqi army which is replaced by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Although Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in 2017 moved to counter Peshmerga forces by taking from them parts of Kirkuk, including Tuz Khurma, large parts remain held by the Kurds who have shown they are incapable of or reluctant to secure them.
The Peshmerga forces are only responsible for internal security within the Kurdistan region, and their presence at the international borders is beyond their authority, and for this reason, it is necessary for the central government to use its authority and bring all the Iraqi armed forces under its control. The Kurds have shown that more than they care about the security of Iraq and their neighbors, their only concern is to ensure the internal security of the autonomous region, as they consider themselves separate from the central government.
So far, the Kurdish leaders have repeatedly opposed the presence of Iraqi forces in the Kurdistan region, but now the situation has changed and if no action is taken by the army forces and the threats against the neighbors prevail, Turkey and Iran will not remain silent and in recent weeks they have warned that if Baghdad does not take any action, they will take action to eliminate the resources of threat.
US, the big problem
One of the reasons that caused Iraqi army to perform poorly in Kurdistan region and other regions is the presence of the American forces who over the past years set up their bases and disallowed Iraqi forces’ entry to some areas, and in the absence of the federal forces, the Americans are advancing their destabilizing plans. It is the same in Kurdistan region, where the Americans have established Harir military base and in association of the Erbil leaders and the Peshmerga forces are blocking the Iraqi army from the north. Experts assert that as long as the US occupation forces exist on the Iraqi soil, Iraqi stability and peace would be a dream.
In reaction to assassination of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani and Iraq's Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3, 2020, by a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport, Iraqi parliament passed a bid calling for expulsion of the US forces from Iraq. Iraqis are determined to expel the Americans from their country. However, Kurdish leaders, and particularly the Barzanis, find the US presence a guarantee to their rule and are concerned about their expulsion. A Kurdish official once said that the political leaders of Erbil all agree on the importance of continuing the presence and support of the US and NATO under the framework of the international coalition to support the Peshmerga forces and empower the security system of the autonomous region.
The Kurds’ insistence on the stay of the American occupation forces in Iraq is driven by a Kurdish plan to take advantage of their forces to prevent central government's grip on the northern regions. They know that with the US withdrawal, the Peshmerga forces cannot face off the Iraqi army. In other words, with the withdrawal of the US, which has a balancing role against central government, there would be a security vacuum for Erbil. Even the terrorist groups of PJAK and PKK, which are secretly backed by Erbil leaders, can seize the opportunity to deal lows to the region's rule, and in this case, the Iraqi army's presence would be felt more than ever. As long as the Americans are there in Iraq, the Erbil leadership would not feel a fear. Therefore, the Iraqis should focus on expulsion of the Americans more than anything else. By doing so, Baghdad eliminates a key destabilizing factor and paves the way for entry to Kurdistan region of the government forces. Al-Sudani government, which emerged from the heart of Iraqi resistance and seeks to establish security at home and on the borders, will seriously pursue the case of ending the American occupation.
One of the factors that are effective in the occurrence of insecurity on the Iraqi borders is the ambiguous state of the constitution, which does not clearly define the duties of the armed forces, and this issue is confusing to the Iraqis, and it is necessary to fix these constitutional flaws as soon as possible. Therefore, in order to have a powerful army and government, the Iraqi parliament, whose majority is now in the hands of representatives of resistance groups, must introduce constitutional amendments. The constitution was written when the country was under complete occupation and there was no powerful army for which the Iraqi leaders could define many tasks. But now the conditions have changed and the PMF, which have been protecting the security of Iraq for several years, are part of the armed forces but are not mentioned in the constitution and if they are given full authority, the security of the borders will be fully established. During battle against the ISIS terrorist organization, they showed how capable they are and can use their experience to secure the borders with Iran and Turkey.
Now that Iraqi-Syrian borders are under the control of the PMF, there is no threat from Iraq to the territorial integrity of Syria, and this shows that the inaction of the Kurdish leaders is the source of troubles caused by terrorist groups to neighbors, and in case of the presence of the PMF and the army, most of the problems will be solved in the border areas. On the other hand, the Iraqi people themselves are against foreign attacks on their country, and for this reason, they are opposed to Kurdish policies and the American backing to the terrorist and separatist groups. This would put pressure on the central government to take a resolute stance concerning security of the borders with neighbors.
So, from now on, there would be no excuse for Erbil to disallow the army from entry to the autonomous region, and if Erbil resists, Baghdad may end its tolerance and use force to take control of the borders with Iran and Turkey. After all, insecurity is of negative impacts for the Iraqis and neighbors’ actions to remove the sources of threat may question Iraq's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The new Iraqi leadership is well aware of this fact.