Iran pursues opposition by bombing Iraqi Kurdistan

Tehran is expanding its influence in Iraq, taking a tougher stance against its exiled Kurdish opposition in Iraqi Kurdistan.

al-monitor An Iranian Kurdish peshmerga member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran inspects damage at party headquarters after it was hit by an Iranian rocket, Koy Sanjaq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Sept. 12, 2018.  Photo by SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images.

Sep 20, 2018

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — Iran not only bombed its Kurdish opposition in Iraq earlier this month, it demanded the "terrorists" be handed over, and threatened more attacks in Iraq to eliminate them.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) approved the Sept. 8 bombing of the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iran (KDPI) in the Iraqi city of Koy Sanjaq near the Iran border. Considered a terrorist organization by Iran, KDPI operates largely out of neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan.

The missile attack killed at least 12 party members and wounded about 30 others.

Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the attack was justified. “Targeting the [KDPI] headquarters was a forced option in response to the attacks of the armed party and the killing of Iranian border guards a few weeks ago," he said during a Sept. 10 press conference.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry responded Sept. 9 with a statement saying it refuses to allow the KDPI to use its land to threaten the security of neighboring countries, meaning Iran and Turkey. However, “the Foreign Ministry categorically rejects the violation of Iraqi sovereignty by bombing any target inside Iraqi territory, without prior coordination with Iraqi authorities, to spare civilians the repercussions of such operations,” the ministry added.

In a statement issued by his office, Iraqi President Fuad Masum condemned the bombing as “a dangerous escalation and a flagrant violation of the country’s security.” The statement added, “[The] president of the republic is deeply saddened and worried that the incident has killed and injured many civilians, mostly women and children.”

A spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil told Al-Monitor, “The Kurdish opposition parties are present in the Iraqi Kurdistan region as per agreements dating back to the 1980s and therefore they can't be extradited because they are considered refugees within the Iraqi territories. … International laws and regulations that protect asylum [seekers] must be respected, especially since problems can't be solved by means of arms. Negotiations between the concerned parties must be carried out to resolve disputes.”

The KDPI is a socialist political party founded in 1945 under the leadership of Qazi Muhammad with the aim of achieving a federal system in Iran. This turned into armed action in the 1960s. KDPI disputes with the Islamic regime in Iran culminated in 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution, when Kurds were not granted autonomy. The party declared a cease-fire with the Iranian regime unilaterally in 1996, but took up arms again in 2016 to achieve its demands.

According to Iranian Fars News Agency, the missiles fired at Kurdish targets inside Iraq were Fateh-110s, with a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles); Fateh-313s and Mubeen, 500 kilometers; Zulfiqar (700 kilometers); and Khalij Fars and Hormuz, 300 kilometers. A Fateh-11 warhead weighing 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) was launched from the common border.

The KDPI, however, said Iran has developed missile platforms at Mount Surin in the Sulaimaniyah governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan, and stressed, “Tehran will bring in troops to the heights of the mountain, where they will camp with a missile platform.”

A team of US security investigators found that the missiles used in the attack were fired from locations only 20-40 kilometers from the targeted areas, taking advantage of the launch pads that Iran had deployed within the borders of the city of Sulaimaniyah.

According to the investigation results, published by various media outlets, the information disclosed by Iran's IRGC about the missile launch pad was “misleading and inaccurate.”

In any case, the Iranian attack on the opposition sites in Iraqi territory was foreseeable, especially after the June clashes between the armed elements of the Kurdish opposition parties and Iran's IRGC on the border between Iraq and Iran, which killed and injured dozens of the guards.

The KDPI said these attacks were in response to Iranian authorities' execution of Kurdish opposition members.

What's worrisome isn't only the military confrontations between Iranian forces and the Kurdish opposition within Iraq, but also the proliferation of these forces and their weapons, especially the sophisticated missiles inside Iraq.

This could trigger confrontations with the United States, as Washington has warned it would respond swiftly and decisively to any attack by Tehran or its proxies in Iraq that could harm Americans or damage US facilities.

Israel also threatened to target Iranian forces inside Iraq. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Iranian bombing of KDPI headquarters in Kurdistan was a message to the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel. “As Washington is pressuring Iran, the missile threat is Tehran’s response to the US sanctions,” it reported.

Until Iraq forms a new Cabinet, can stand firm against foreign interference in Iraqi affairs, and can deter attacks, Iraq will witness further escalation between the major stakeholders in the region, notably Tehran and Washington.

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