Pro-regime media in Iran published an article over the weekend saying that Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq has denied claims that Iran sought to invade northern Iraq.
The controversy relates to attacks by Iran against Kurdish dissident groups. In September and November last year, in an effort to target Kurdish groups who Iran accused of being behind women’s rights protests in Iran, the Tehran regime used drones and rockets to attack Kurdish dissidents.
Iran taking a step back
At the time Iran appeared on the verge of an invasion of northern Iraq that could have struck at Koya, areas near Sulimaniyeh and other sites. Now Iran is walking back its threats.
The report at Tasnim News said that Iran was accused of seeking to “invade” Iraq, but that this is incorrect. “Such news is fundamentally false and Iran has never thought of attacking and invading the territory of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and recently there was an understanding between the authorities of the two countries and there was no intention to enter the territory of Iraq,” Iran's ambassador Mohammad Kazem Al-e Sadeq said.
Iran claims that Kurdish groups, such as the Kurdish KDPI, PAK and Komala groups, are “terrorists.” Iran wants to distract from its failure at homes by blaming foreign dissidents. Kurds are one of the main groups that have historically acted against the regime.
Many Kurds have fled Iran over the years and some of their dissident groups have facilities in northern Iraq. The Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq is an autonomous region.
However, the region tries to hedge its relations between its powerful neighbors, Iran and Turkey. In both cases it has suffered attacks because there are also Kurdish groups that operate in northern Iraq that are opposed to the Turkish ruling party. Turkey has also operated in northern Iraq for decades.
Complex ties to Kurdish parties
At the same time, the two large Kurdish political parties, the KDP and PUK, enjoy different relations with Turkey and Iran. KDP has tended to be closer to Turkey, whereas PUK has tended to be closer to Iran. This complexity and patchwork of groups means the region is often vulnerable to attacks by Iran or Turkey. Baghdad’s leadership tends to be closer to Iran as well.
Iran claims now that its attacks on Kurds in Iraq were part of Iran’s “guaranteed right to defend oneself” and Iran says it hopes that now there is an agreement between Iraq and Iran that will mean that Iraq will “control the armed groups” and not enable “aggression” against Iran.
Iran faced six months of protests beginning last year. The protests were due to the religious police killing a Kurdish woman, which led to protests across Iran. Iran has sought to distract from anger at home by blamed opposition Kurdish groups.
The Iraqi ambassador claimed that “the recent unrest in Iran was caused by the infiltration of opposition Kurdish elements from Erbil, and our security forces destroyed a terrorist cell in Iran that had a big plan in mind, and this team was also launched from Erbil.”
Iran’s ambassador claimed that he complained 18 times to Iraq about the Kurdish opposition groups. The Ambassador also said that he will travel to the Kurdistan region soon. “We have historical relations with the Kurds and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”
Iran has opposed Kurdish dissidents but it has also hosted Kurds who fled the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Some current Kurdish leaders lived in Iran when they were young or fled through Iran as displaced persons during the Saddam regime.
The Iranian regime has also thanked Iraq for hosting Saudi Arabia and Iran for recent talks that led to normalization. China and Iraq played a key role in this normalization. “We continue to count on Iraq's role as a connecting link between the Islamic Republic and other Arab countries,” the Iranian ambassador said.