as clashes between the Kurdish rebels and the Pasdaran escalated along the Iran-Iraq border.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that it was providing humanitarian aid to 800 internally displaced Iraqi Kurds amid calls from the Iraqi government for Iran to stop attacks inside its territory.
Iran has periodically fired artillery into Iraqi Kurdistan for several years and there have been occasional claims of brief Iranian troop incursions into Iraq. But since mid-July, the fighting appears to have escalated considerably. Whether this is a result of increased Kurdish rebel action or a decision by the Islamic Republic to try to finish off the rebels remains unclear.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hooshyar Zibari asked his Iranian counterpart, Ali-Akbar Salehi, to halt the attacks.
Iran has said its forces exercise care to avoid civilian casualties, and renewed its calls on the Iraqi government to curb the “presence and operations” along the Iranian border of the Party for a Free Life In Kurdistan (PJAK), an organization of Iranian Kurds opposed to the regime in Tehran. PJAK has long taken refuge just across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“We are accurate in our information, especially in targeting artillery strikes,” said Pasdar Gen. Mohammad Pakpur.
Iran has also said that it has a right to attack the PJAK positions, though it denies entering Iraqi territory. Authorities say the attacks are vital for “creating lasting security and cleansing the border regions.”
PJAK fighters claimed Friday that a Pasdar commander and five of his soldiers were killed when they drove over a mine.
The Fars news agency confirmed the casualties, saying a Gen. Asemi, who was the commander of the Ali ibn Abi Taleb unit from Qom, was killed in clashes in the Sardasht area of West Azerbaijan province.
Iranian officials said the Pasdaran have eliminated and now control three PJAK bases along the Iraqi border and have inflicted heavy loses on the Kurdish rebels.
“A large number” of PJAK fighters have been killed, according to Col. Delavar Ranjbar-zadeh. Kurdish fighters said they have also killed numerous Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) in clashes.
Neither side’s claims could be independently verified, and accurate information on the precise number of casualties on both sides remains illusive.
Meanwhile, criticism of the operation continues to build among groups in both countries.
Six Iraqi MPs on July 20 visited the border area on a fact-finding mission and called on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to condemn Iran’s attacks. His silence was “a sign of weakness,” said Shawan Mohammad Taha, a member of the fact-finding mission.
In Iran, Majlis Deputy Nadir Qazipur asked Iran’s Foreign Ministry to explain whether Iraqi Kurds are “our friends or enemies.… Our country’s diplomatic establishment should clarify our status vis-à-vis the Iraqi Kurdistan.” The Iraqi Kurdish parties long looked to Iran for support against Saddam Hussein. Now that Saddam is gone, there is fear the Iraqi Kurds will shift their support to Iranian Kurdish rebels.
A group of 300 Iranian intellectuals and activists called on the government to cease the hostilities because of the human toll on the Pasdaran and Iraqi civilians as well as PJAK fighters.
Iran deployed about 5,000 fighters along its northwestern border when clashes with the PJAK escalated July 13.
Although denied by the Iranian government, Kurdish sources – PJAK and news agencies – have reported that Iranian tanks have been positioned on Iraqi soil. These sources also claim that Iranian helicopters regularly fly into Iraqi territory and engage in combat.
The twice-weekly Kurdish newspaper Hawlati reported on its website that on July 19 sounds of heavy gunfire were heard “every time [an Iranian helicopter] entered the Hawraman region.”
Hawraman’s emergency police chief, Lt. Col. Hama-Ali Bawhjan, confirmed those reports.
Pasdar Gen. Pakpur accused the United States of supporting the Kurdish rebels.
“The politics and culture of global arrogance led by the USA … supports all of the groups that rally together behind Iran’s borders,” he said.
“The region of 3,000 square kilometers is under the supervision of this terrorist group [PJAK]. It is a playing field for terrorism, kidnaping and putting fear in our hearts.”
Iran also called on Germany to put on trial Rahman Hajji Ahmadi, the PJAK leader living in Germany, on charges of terrorism.
Iranian state TV showed a young man named Hamzeh Sayyid, allegedly Kurdish, who “confessed” in broken Farsi.
“I was a PJAK member for one year,” he was shown saying. The video then showed him speaking in Kurdish with Farsi subtitles as saying, “I want to advise individuals who are of the same age as me not to be deceived. I would like to tell my family and other families to take care of your children.”