Kurdish fighters vow to resist regime’s crackdown as groups search for more united strategy amid sanctions on Tehran.
Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Sunday that they had killed 10 militants in the Kurdish region of Iran. The same day the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) said they had engaged in “heavy clashes” with the IRGC near the city of Oshnavieh and had killed 12 “IRGC terrorists.”
The battles come amidst a rise in tensions in Iran with US sanctions kicking in and after six months of protests in various parts of the country, including the Kurdish region. Sensing the regime is strained and the Kurdish groups are now trying to carry out more public attacks on Iran’s IRGC.
On Sunday, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) suggested forming a more united front of Kurdish groups opposing the Iranian regime.
There are several Iranian Kurdish groups that have been resisting the regime over the last decade. The PDKI was a thorn in the side of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in the 1980s during a time of tremendous upheaval when the country was transformed by the theocratic government and the war against Iraq.
In 1989, Iranian agents assassinated Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, secretary-general of the PDKI, in Vienna. It viewed the Kurdish fighters as such a threat that it even threatened to invade Iraq and shelled their positions in Iraq where many Iranian Kurds had fled.
Over the last several years, the PDKI has increased its activity against Tehran’s regime, sending its Peshmerga, or soldiers, back into Iran. Until this year clashes were rare. But in the last six months as Tehran has been challenged by widespread economic protests the IRGC and PDKI have fought several small battles, resulting in deaths on both sides.
Iran has also sought to carry out assassinations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. These assassinations have not only targeted PDKI, but also members of other groups such as the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) and activists.
Iqbal Muradi of the Kurdistan Human Rights Association, was found gunned down on July 17 outside of Penjwen in Iraq, just two kilometers from the Iranian border. His body was found in a river near the town.
Revenge for his murder came swiftly. Members of PJAK attacked an Iranian base in the village of Dari near the city of Marivan, killing 11 members of the Iranian Basij militia on July 21. The fighters then slipped away back into the lush mountainous terrain along the border. Around the same time PJAK released the names of four of their men killed in recent clashes with Iran in Marivan and Paveh. On August 10 a third Kurdish group in Iran, the PAK was reported to have killed five IRGC members in Paveh.
It’s clear from statements that the Kurdish groups attempt to focus their attacks on the IRGC, which is the most ideological of the regime’s security forces. Tehran has responded by shelling Kurdish bases in Iraq. Yet the Kurdish groups have continued to expand their presence, tweeting photos of their forces armed and walking through villages in western Iran. They’ve also sought out support from the West in their campaign. PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri and Abdullah Mohtadi of Komala, another Iranian Kurdish party, travelled to Washington in June for meetings. Hijri was also at the French consulate in Erbil in northern Iraq for France’s National Day in mid-July. The Kurdish groups have different origins in Iran. PJAK is connected to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) while PDKI is more closely related to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) which is the leading party in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.
THE TENSIONS in Iran are rising amidst the conflict. Last month an oil truck, alleged to have been delivering oil from Iraq to the IRGC caught fire in Snandaj near Marivan, killing 20 people. When police arrived to secure the scene local people, many of them Kurds, attacked the police and rioted.
The IRGC has said it wants to take action against the increasing clashes. But it doesn’t know the best course of action. An attack on bases in Iraq could destabilize the border. Suppressing Kurds could lead to more support for the groups. In addition Iran and Iraq are besieged by other problems.
Iran’s attempt to influence politics in Iraq has hit a reef as Baghdad’s politicians now must choose between support for US sanctions and support for its friends in Iran. Widespread economic protests in Basra and elsewhere have rejected Iran’s influence. ISIS is again escalating terror attacks. And Tehran faces protests in the very heart of the capital.
A rebellion in the Kurdish region with three or four armed groups fighting the IRGC and enjoying support from the local people is the last thing Iran needs. This is especially true because the IRGC is involved in clandestine importation of oil from Kirkuk that travels through the mountain roads of the Kurdish region.
The recent clashes have also shown that the Kurdish groups can inflict damage on the regime.
Over the summer, more than two dozen members of the Iranian security forces, mostly from the IRGC, have been killed and wounded. “We will hunt down anyone who has Kurdish blood on their hands. Leave the IRGC and do not take orders from the Islamist regime before it is too late,” the PDKI’s fighters said on July 11.