EghtesadOnline: Iraqi Kurds are opening a new chapter in their relations with Iran seven months after a foiled independence referendum in the Kurdish region.
The Kurdistan Regional Government hosted an Iranian government trade delegation in Erbil during the fourth economic conference between the two parties on May 2-3 to discuss ways of expanding ties.
“This conference was an important gathering to expand economic relations between Iraq and Iran and in particular the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” said Hassan Danaiefar, the former Iranian ambassador to Baghdad and the current head of the committee to expand economic relations between Iran and Iraq, reads an article published by Al-Monitor. Excepts follow:
Iran’s Minister of Industries, Mining and Trade Mohammad Shariatmadari, who attended the conference, said an agreement was signed between Erbil and Tehran to expand relations and to form a committee to deal with obstacles that slow down bilateral trade, Financial Tribune reported.
“I think all the parties, including the KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party], the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and others, have understood that the role of the Islamic Republic is critical and they should have taken into account its demands and suggestions,” said Nazim Dabagh, a veteran KRG representative in Tehran, on May 2.
“We could say that they [Iranians] had informed the Kurds that the referendum would bring disaster for the Kurds. Now all the [Kurdish] parties are trying to improve their relations [with Tehran].”
Once the Iraqi Kurdish leadership came to terms with the fact that Iran is the real power broker in Iraq, a delegation headed by KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani visited Tehran in January and agreed to cooperate with Iranian officials.
The KRG delegation agreed with Tehran’s demand for a halt to illegal smuggling from Iraqi Kurdistan. In return, both parties agreed to expand their economic and trade ties.
The Kurds and Iran are currently implementing an agreement that will see, on the economic front, the KRG expand the capacity of the current border crossings and will open more crossings. This has led to protests and strikes in the Kurdish areas on the Iranian side, as the crackdown on smuggling has put thousands of cross-border porters, locally known as “kolbar”, out of work.
An Iranian Kurdish legislator last month complained in parliament that 75,000 kolbars have lost their jobs as a result of the government policy in the last Iranian year, which ended on March 20, 2018.
The Iranian authorities now say reforms are being pursued to put these porters back to work, albeit via new arrangements.
In the border hub of Baneh, officials say local traders’ demand of a 50% exemption from customs tariffs, which is more than twice the current discount of 20%, cannot be accommodated.
On the Iraqi side, more border checkpoints are set up to stop traders from providing goods to porters.
“We are here to stop the smuggling of goods,” said a Kurdish officer in the border area near the town of Khurmal in Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah Province on April 25.
The steps taken by KRG to boost bilateral trade and keep a lid on militancy in its territory signal that the Iraqi Kurdish leadership has realized that it needs to be on good terms with the Iranians, not merely to survive in the volatile region, but also to be accepted once again in the Iraqi capital.