Top Iranian General in Turkey for Talks on Regional Conflicts, Iraqi Kurds

ANKARA, TURKEY - AUGUST 16: President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with General Staff of the Armed Forces of Iran, Mohammad Bagheri (L) ahead of their meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on August 16, 2017. (Photo by Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The chief of Iran’s military recently visited Ankara to find common ground with Turkey on the regional conflicts affecting both neighboring countries and to discuss the independence aspirations of Kurds in Iraq.

Gen. Mohammad Baqeri’s trip to Turkey has been described as the first visit by an Iranian chief of staff since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Reuters reports:

Turkish and Iranian military leaders held talks on Wednesday over cooperation in the Syrian conflict and counter-terrorism, officials said, during a rare visit to NATO-member Turkey by the Islamic Republic’s military chief of staff.

Turkey’s ties with Washington have been strained by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, and the visit by Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri is the latest sign that Ankara is increasing cooperation with other powers such as Iran and Russia.

Citing an unnamed Iranian source, Reuters notes that Baqeri was accompanied by the ground forces chief of Iran’s elite and powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Although Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey have found themselves on opposite sides of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, both Ankara and Tehran are reportedly opposed to the formation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq, fearing it will motivate the Kurds within their territories to do the same.

“The Iranian general’s visit comes as Tehran, Ankara, and Moscow are cooperating in what is called the Astana process to resolve the Syrian civil war. The conflict is expected to be discussed during the visit,” reports Voice of America (VOA), later adding:

The aspirations of the region’s Kurds is also expected to be on the Iranian general’s agenda in Ankara, with both countries having large and restive Kurdish minorities. Next month’s independence referendum by Iraqi Kurds will provide common ground, with Tehran and Ankara strongly opposing the vote.

VOA described the top Iranian general’s visit to Ankara as “rare,” noting: “The two neighbors have found themselves increasing rivals in Iraq and Syria, but both sides are trying to find common ground.”

In Syria, the rivalry between Iran and Turkey is more pronounced. While Turkey has been backing Syrian opposition groups seeking to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad, Iran has been supporting the Russian-backed leader.

In Iraq, both Iran and Turkey have found themselves fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

However, Iran’s ally Baghdad has urged Turkey to leave Iraq.

Moreover, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, considered to be an advocate of Sunni Muslim rights in the Middle East, has been a leading critic of Shiite Iran’s policy in Iraq and Syria.

“Iran is becoming a very important actor in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria,” former Turkish ambassador to Iraq Unal Cevikoz, who now heads the Ankara Policy Forum, told VOA. “It seems Iran has certain intentions. And when we look at the Turkish-Iranian relations pertaining to the situation in Iraq and Syria, it is obvious Turkey and Iran are not on the same page.”