Iranian Revolutionary Guard 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A border dispute between Iran and the Kurdish region of Iraq underwent a
significant escalation this week, as Iranian Revolutionary Guards crossed the
border to engage with guerrillas of the PJAK, Party for a Free Life in
The incursions began on Saturday night. Fighting continued
throughout most of Sunday.
By late Sunday afternoon, a tense quiet had
returned to the border area.
The Iranians also claimed to have captured a
wounded PJAK member. A Colonel of the Revolutionary Guards, Delavar
Ranjbarzadeh, told IRNA that PJAK had suffered a ‘heavy and historic defeat.’
The Kurdish rebels dismiss this version of events. PJAK spokesman Sherzad
Kamankar said 53 Iranians had been killed in the clashes, along with two PJAK
Kamankar said the Iranian attack had been coordinated with local
Islamist fighters. He said PJAK had succeeded in forcing the Iranians to retreat
back across the borderline.
Kurdish sources in the area confirmed Iranian
bombardments took place at a number of other points along the borderline over
the weekend. The areas of Sehit Harun and Dola Koke, inside the Kurdish-ruled
part of Iraq, also came under fire.
Both Iranian and Kurdish sources
noted a buildup of Iranian forces, possibly indicating further escalation ahead.
IRNA reported the presence of 5,000 Iranian troops along the border.
sources noted Iranian forces were equipped with armor, missile-launching
equipment and helicopter gunships.
The Iranian incursion into the
Kurdish-ruled area of northern Iraq is the latest stage in a process of
escalation that has been under way over the last month. On July 3, Massoud
Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, warned the Iranians over ongoing
cross-border operations by their forces.
Iran responded a week ago by
accusing Barzani’s government of allocating 300,000 hectares of land to the PJAK
without the knowledge of the central government in Baghdad. Iranian officials
said the land was intended to be used as a base for training and for launching
attacks into Iran.
An official quoted by the Fars News Agency said Iran
“reserves its right to target and destroy terrorist bases in the border areas.”
Barzani denied any lands have been allocated to the PJAK.
decision to strike across the border at this time, analysts say, may be related
to Tehran’s broader strategy of encouraging disorder in Iraq as a means of
placing pressure on the US and the West. With the US administration hoping to
conduct an orderly withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year, Washington is
particularly vulnerable on this front. The Iranians are keen to remind the
Americans of this vulnerability.
Some Kurdish sources note Iranian
concern over the possible loss of Tehran’s main Arab ally – Bashar Assad’s
Though it has not yet materialized, it is generally accepted that
firm Western support of the Syrian opposition could form a decisive factor in
bringing Assad down. Iran may well consider that one of the ways of preventing
the emergence of such support would be to remind Washington of its own
vulnerability to disruption and subversion in Iraq. The events of the last days
thus cast a spotlight on a largely ignored element of the Cold War under way
between Iran and its enemies in the region.
Increased activity by
Iranian-supported Shi’ite terrorist groups in southern and central Iraq has been
noted in recent weeks. Actions by such groups resulted in the deaths of 15 US
troops in Iraq in June. It now appears the Kurdish-ruled areas of northern Iraq
are also set to be included in this Iranian campaign of
Stirring up a crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan is of particular
value because this area has been the quietest and most well-administered part of
the country since the US invasion. The presence of anti-Iranian and anti-Turkish
guerrilla groups in the Qandil Mountains border area has posed a dilemma for the
Mindful of the very difficult conditions facing
their fellow Kurds in these countries, they have been reluctant to act against
these elements. The result is that Iranian bombardments and Turkish air raids
form part of the reality of life in these areas.
This has continued even
as the Kurdish authorities have attempted to establish normal relations with
Iran and Turkey.
Iran now appears to be activating this front for its own
The official Iranian media and the Kurdish rebels broadcast
widely differing accounts of what exactly happened in the Iran-Kurdistan
Regional Government border area in the last days. The accounts agreed, however,
on one central point: considerable bloodshed took place in fighting between the
Revolutionary Guards and PJAK, following Iranian incursions across the border.
Further escalations in weeks ahead appear likely.