Iran Launches War Games, Blocks Flights to Kurdistan Ahead of Referendum

Ground forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)

The Iranian military started war games on Sunday near the border with Kurdistan, one day before the region is scheduled to hold a referendum on independence from Iraq.

The exercise, dubbed Moharram, is taking place in the Oshnavieh border region and includes artillery, armored and airborne units, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported.

At the same time, Iranian authorities blocked all flights to and from Kurdistan.

“At the request of the central government of Iraq, all flights from Iran to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil airports as well as all flights through our country’s airspace originating in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region have been halted,” Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said.

At present, Turkey is also holding a military drill at the border with Iraq. The Turkish war games are expected to end one day after the referendum, which is scheduled for Monday.

The Kurdistan referendum has garnered little support from western nations, and the U.S. has been one of the most outspoken against it.

U.S.-led Coalition Envoy Brett McGurk said earlier this week that the referendum “carries an awful lot of risks.” He added that it is also not something that the U.S. can control.

“Other actors here will make their own decisions, including neighbors – Turkey, for example – and so that is why we remain in very close consultations with all of our friends in the Kurdistan region, and they’re very close friends of ours and partners, and also with the Iraqi Government,” Mr. McGurk said.

Hemin Hawrami, a senior assistant to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s leader Masoud Barzani, told The Globe Post on Saturday that the referendum will be held as planned.