Kurdish Peshmerga (center) leader Hussein Yazdanpanah with his men on the frontline with ISIS west of Kirkuk.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Kurds in Iran, who have long complained of oppression and neglect of their region at the hands of the regime, have played an important role in the protests in Iran, according to Hussein Yazdanpanah, leader of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK). “We do expect the US and the international community to support us,” he said.
Yazdanpanah and his Kurdish group live in exile in northern Iraq and have played a key role in the war against Islamic State for the last three years alongside Kurdish Peshmerga. He has served as a frontline general commanding his fighters in battles near Hawija and Bashiqa in northern Iraq.
“We are not apart from the situation in Iran,” he wrote in an email. “Our main supporters are based in Iran.”
The current protests that have stretched into their fifth day are against poverty, hunger, “totalitarianism and oppression by the Iranian regime,” Yazdanpanah said.
It was poverty and the lack of basic needs that caused people to go into the streets on December 28, he said, adding: “They were first economic protests. These protests were politicized from the slogans of the people against Khamenei and the regime.”
In addition, Kurds have played a central role in the protests throughout eastern Kurdistan, a region known as Rojhelat in Kurdish.
“Kermanshah was the leader of politicizing the situation by holding slogans of freedom,” Yazdanpanah said.
For those in the PAK who oppose the regime, the struggle has been a long one that has included Kurdish revolts against the Ayatollahs since the 1980s by other Kurdish groups. PAK was founded in 1991, and we “were always in revolt,” Yazdanpanah said.
He hopes the protests will lead to more support for the PAK. “I believe if the protests extend… this will benefit Kurds to use this situation while the regime is busy,” he said.
However, the Kurds face a difficult struggle, Yazdanpanah said, adding: “We have no friends but the mountains. We have always been standing by ourselves. However, we do expect the US and the international community to support us. We do see it as their task to back us in fighting against [Iran] state terrorism that is a threat to the entire world.”
In Iraq, Kurds have recently come into low-level conflict with Iranian proxies among the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which are an official paramilitary force of the Iraqi government. During the October clashes that followed the Kurdistan independence referendum in September, the PMU attacked Kurdish positions in several places. Yazdanpanah and his unit fought against these proxies, which he said are directly used by Iran.
“They are made in Iran and ratify Iran’s objective in the region,” Yazdanpanah said. “The Hashd is part of the Quds Forces that are under Qasem Soleimani. So there is no doubt that fighting the Hashd al-Shaabi [as the PAK did at Pirde in October] was a fight against Iran.”
The recent protests in Iran have targeted Soleimani specifically as an example of government waste, with protesters angry that the regime is sending money to finance fighters in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Protesters have torn down photos of the Quds Forces commander.