Rikar Hussein – Voice of America
Iranian Kurdish militants who were targeted by Iranian missile strikes earlier this month at a headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan have declared intentions to step up their activities against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The rocket strikes, claimed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), hit Democratic Party of Kurdistan of Iran (KDPI) offices in the Iraqi Kurdistan town of Koya, near the Iran border, on September 8.
KDPI said 15 of its members were killed and several others were injured in the attack.
“This tragedy requires that we work closely together to prevent more criminal acts from the Islamic Republic [Iran],” Mustafa Mauludi, secretary general of KDPI, told VOA.
“From this moment we will begin a new chapter of resistance against the regime in Tehran, for the sake of freedom of our nation,” he added.
KDPI, labelled a terrorist organization by Tehran, is Iran's oldest Kurdish movement. It has been engaged in a persistent guerrilla war against the Iranian Islamic regime since 1979 to achieve “Kurdish national rights within a democratic federal republic of Iran.”
The group currently operates in exile in neighboring Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Mauludi said his group will begin negotiations with other Kurdish opposition parties to unite forces against the government in Tehran, adding that informal talks about a unified Kurdish front were already underway even before the attack.
Iranian officials have in the past blamed Kurdish separatists for several attacks against the Iranian border patrol forces near the Iraqi border.
The IRGC in a statement last week said the strike on the KDPI headquarter was due to incursions of "terrorist bands linked to the U.S." into Iran's West Azarbaijan, Kurdistan and Kermanshah provinces in northwest, an accusation denied by KDPI.
"The punishment of transgressors was planned following the recent months' wicked acts by terrorists from the Kurdistan Region against the Islamic Republic's borders," the IRGC statement said.
Iranian officials claim the increased Kurdish insurgency is motivated by the U.S. and aims to create instability in Iran at a time when the economy is suffering significantly due to the U.S. sanctions following the American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May.
Iran’s official Press TV last week quoted IRGC’s top commander Mohammad Bagheri as saying the strike inside the Iraqi territory was Iran’s right to defend itself from U.S. “aggressions.”
“Iraqi Kurdish officials and the PDKI had made a written commitment not to conduct operations in Iran, but they have been breaking that promise over the past year due to the U.S. provocations," Press TV quoted Bagheri.
A U.S. State Department official denied Washington is attempting to encourage militancy against the regime in Tehran.
"The U.S. is not supporting Kurdish military activity against Iran," the official told VOA. "Our activities in Iraq stand in stark contrast with those of the Iranian regime, which is working on a daily basis, through violence and intimidation, to subvert the will of the Iraqi people and undermine Iraq’s sovereignty."
The official said that the U.S. is only working with the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan regional government as elected governments of the country, adding Iran’s goal is to spread instability in Iraq and “maintain a pattern of malign behavior in the region.”
The Iraqi and Kurdish governments, which issued statements condemning the strikes as a violation of their sovereignty, say they want both sides to avoid using Iraq in their conflict.
The Kurdish government’s representative to Iran, Nazim Dabagh, told VOA that his government warned KDPI leaders in the past that their bases could be attacked if they continued their activities against Tehran.
Dabagh urged Iranian Kurdish militants to avoid military conflict, as it might ruin the security of the Kurdistan region.
“The military confrontation between the Kurdish opposition armed group and the Islamic Republic of Iran does not resolve the issues between both sides as much as diplomatic means do. Such confrontations only please the enemies of Kurds, the Kurdistan Region and Islamic Republic of Iran,” Dabagh said.
Experts say that the escalation between Iran and the Kurdish insurgency is expected to continue as militants feel embolden by internal and international pressure on the Iranian regime.
According to Babak Taghvaee, a Malta-based Iranian analyst, the Iran-Iraq border point will likely witness more paramilitary attacks from KDPI members and other Kurdish militants who might want to take advantage of the gap created when Iranian government forces leave Kurdish areas to suppress protests in other parts of the country.
“They have increased their activities because they believe Iran’s protests and the withdrawal of the regime might provide an opportunity for them to separate Iran's Kurdistan province,” Taghvaee told VOA.
Raman Ghavami, a London-based counter-insurgency analyst, said the Iranian regime could attempt to use the escalation with the Kurdish militants to gain support of Persian nationalists who oppose Kurdish statehood.
“Attacking Kurdish opposition groups and executing Kurds have been used as a tactic to get Persian nationalists’ support for decades. But the current situation inside Iran has made it difficult for the regime to get the same support as before. Tehran has therefore failed to use the Kurds to unite the central part of Iran behind the government,” Ghavami added.
VOA’s Nike Ching and Zhiyar Omar contributed to this report.