The situation in the Kurdish areas threatens to escalate. The government is cracking down on protests and attacking Kurdish positions in Iraq.
BERLIN taz | More than two months after the start of protests in Iran the situation in the Kurdish areas in the north-west is coming to a head. The human rights organization Hengaw warned on Monday of a “humanitarian catastrophe”. She reported that six people had been killed the day before after “direct fire” by regime forces in the cities of Jawanrud and Piranshahr. “Iranian government forces opened fire on the population,” the organization wrote.
Eyewitnesses had previously spoken to various media about a dramatic deterioration in the situation and an imminent “massacre” in the city of Mahabad. Mahabad is also located in north-west Iran not far from the border with Iraq. Armed troops have been dispatched to Mahabad, Hengaw said.
Regime forces are said to have invaded the city with tanks on Saturday evening and shot at demonstrators. The electricity there was switched off for a short time, and there were also reports of limited mobile communications. The city is under “siege by the Revolutionary Guards”, reported the opposition exile group Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran (PDKI) on Monday.
Videos believed to have come from Mahabad showed uniformed officers combing the city. Other videos show burning roadblocks. Just a short time before, crowds had been demonstrating peacefully in the streets. Opposition activists also circulated footage from the capital, Tehran, showing a solidarity rally celebrating the Kurdish uprising as a role model for the whole country.
Broad social base of the protests
About ten percent of the Iranian population are Kurdish. The current protests began in September after Iranian Kurd Jina Mahsa Amini died in police custody, allegedly after severe abuse. However, the protests spread to the entire country, including a number of non-Kurdish regions.
Activists defend themselves against an instrumentalization of the Kurds. They emphasize the cross-ethnic character of the protest movement, which aims to overthrow the regime and apparently actually has a broad social base that goes well beyond the Kurdish population.
Nevertheless, the predominantly Kurdish north-west has a special tradition of resistance against the Islamist-Shiite regime. In Sananaj Kurdish rebels rebelled against the new rulers immediately after the Islamic Republic was proclaimed in 1979. The uprising was crushed, killing thousands. Some rebels found shelter in neighboring Iraq.
Various armed Iranian Kurdish opposition groups still maintain positions in northern Iraq, where the Iraqi Kurds govern a constitutionally chartered autonomous region. They are accepted by the autonomous government, while they are more of a thorn in the side of the current Iran-friendly central government in Baghdad.
Iranian air strikes in Iraq
It was these groups in northern Iraq that Iran attacked with rockets and drones on Sunday night. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards website said Monday the attacks were aimed at “separatist and terrorist groups.” Tehran accuses the Kurdish-Iranian exile groups of fomenting the protests in Iran – but this has to be seen against the background of Iranian state propaganda, according to which the entire protest movement is a foreign conspiracy.
Tehran is demanding that the central government in Iraq throw out or disarm opposition Iranian groups. She accuses them of also smuggling weapons across the border into Iran. However, the central government has stated in the past that this is failing because of the autonomous government in northern Iraq. Esmail Ghaani, commander of the Quds unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, even threatened last week with a ground offensive in Iraq if Baghdad did not secure the common border from the Kurdish groups.
The PDKI, one of Iran’s armed exile groups in northern Iraq, confirmed Sunday’s Iranian airstrikes. However, it was not military positions that were hit, but refugee camps and a hospital.
Iran had already attacked targets in Iraq last week and at the end of September. According to Kurdish information from Iraq, around twenty people were killed, including civilians. After the attacks in September, Iraq summoned the Iranian ambassador but otherwise did nothing.