Iranian General Soleimani in 'secret talks' with Kurdish officials
The head of the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force had recently visited Iraq’s Kurdistan region amid rising tensions over the territorial integrity of Kirkuk, political sources told The New Arab on Wednesday.
Qassem Soleimani, a highly influential Iranian general notorious for playing a pivotal role in Iran’s lobbying of Russia's military operation in Syria, had been in the Kurdistan region since Monday, meeting various officials.
Soleimani met with a number of leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the President of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani and former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.
The source told The New Arab that the purpose of the visit was to brief Soleimani on the “worsening crisis” between Erbil and Baghdad as the Iranian general attempts to mediate between the conflicting parties.
"We will brief Soleimani on the Kurdish vision for the future of Kirkuk and the referendum, to convey to Baghdad, which he will visit several days later," the source said, noting that the Iranian delegation informed the parties that he does not wish to see further conflicts break out in Iraq.
This visit comes after Kurdistan’s flag was risen in the Kirkuk region, sparking further tensions on whether the city should hold a referendum about being annexed to Kurdistan, or remaining in Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had rejected all calls for referendums, saying that it is not the right time to hold one with the fight against the Islamic State group escalating.
This has angered Kurdish separatists who argue it is their right to hold a referendum under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution.