Mike Pence condemns Iran’s rocket attacks and reassures Iraqi Kurds
United States vice president Mike Pence condemned Iran’s rocket attacks against the Kurdistan region in Iraq at the weekend, leaving 14 dead and 40 wounded according to the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
In a phone call with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani on Monday, Mr Pence called the attacks by Iran “an effort to threaten and destabilise its closest neighbour [Iraq].”
According to the US read-out, the call also discussed counter-terrorism efforts, “the Kurdish position during government formation and reaffirmed the strategic partnership between the Kurds and the United States”.
Mr Barzani did not mention Iran in his tweets about the call with Mr Pence, but reiterated that the two discussed “efforts to help form an inclusive and representative government in Baghdad”.
Religious freedom and working closely to help Iraq’s persecuted religious communities return to their ancestral homes were also part of the conversation.
Randa Slim, Director of Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute, told The National that Mr Pence’s call [judging by the read-out] “looks like it has more to do with Pence’s pet agenda in the Middle East, such as protection of Christians, than with the Iran’s rocket attacks”.
Still, she noted that when it comes to the government formation process in Baghdad, the “US has intensified its outreach to KRG leaders as part of its ongoing campaign to ensure no pro-Iranian candidate makes it to the prime minister’s office”.
In that context, Ms Slim added, the Iranian bombardment on the town of Koya on Saturday is “linked to the ongoing government formation process”.
Iran essentially wants “to remind the Barzanis that it can create trouble in their backyard if the Kurds threw their support behind an anti-Iran candidate” she said. The call could also help heal “the rift in the US-KRG relationship due to the referendum aftermath” said Ms Slim.
The Pence-Barzani call took place amid reports that Iran is dispatching more military equipment to the border with Iraqi Kurdistan: