Iranian Military Operations in Kurdistan

Members of exiled Komala Party inspect aftermath of bombing in the village of Zrgoiz, near Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, where the bases of several Iranian opposition groups are located, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. An Iranian drone bombing campaign targeting the bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq has killed nd wounded dozens. (AP PhotoAla Hoshyar, Metrography)

On the twenty-fourth of last September, Tehran announced through the “Revolutionary Guard (IRGC)” that it had launched a military operation inside the territory of the Kurdistan region of Iraq called “bombing and fire” in order to “protect the security of the Iranian borders.” In light of the popular protest wave in large areas of Iran following the death of the young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in the middle of the same month.

Although the operation has so far been limited to artillery and missile shelling and drone strikes on what Tehran describes as “terrorist groups”, it raised questions about messages in light of the crisis experienced by the Iranian regime, and about the breadth of the armed map of Iranian and Turkish Kurdish opposition groups inside Iraqi Kurdistan imposed on the Erbil government. Despite Erbil’s attempts to adopt rational approaches in its dealings with these groups on the one hand, and with the Turkish and Iranian governments on the other.


For the third week in a row, the ” IRGC” continues its attacks on the sites of Kurdish militants opposed to Tehran, as part of the so-called “bombing and fire” operation that came in parallel with similar Turkish attacks, while activists in the region launched a campaign of solidarity with the protests in Iranian cities, calling on the Erbil government to stop its relations with Tehran.

The operation comes at a time when protests have continued in Iranian cities, especially Kurdish ones, since last September 16, following the death of the young woman, Mahsa Amini, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the “morality police” on charges of violating the strict rules of dress for women in the country.

On Wednesday, September 28, the most violent Iranian attacks were recorded in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, where missile strikes claimed by Tehran killed at least 13 people and wounded 58 others, including women and children. The strikes targeted the sites of Iranian Kurdish opposition parties that criticize the suppression of demonstrations in Iran, according to a statement by the Kurdistan Counter-Terrorism Service, noting that “more than 70 ballistic missiles and drone launchers were launched from Iranian territory.”

These developments come amid a state of political stalemate in Iraq, and the country’s remaining without a government, amid warnings of the repercussions of this on the fragile security file in Iraq in general.

Current disagreements between the Sadrist Movement (Shia) and the Coordination Framework Alliance (a Shia close to Iran) have prevented the formation of a new Iraqi government since the last legislative elections were held on October 10, 2021, plunging the country into a comprehensive political impasse that Iran is accused of causing.

Who are the target groups?

After Iran was the first destination for prominent Iraqi Kurdish figures, especially from the Barzani family, following its dispute with Saddam Hussein’s regime, northern Iraq has in recent years become a haven for Iranian and Turkish Kurdish opposition groups, thus the region, which has an area of approximately (40,000) km², excluding the disputed areas, a target for IRGC missiles and Turkish army marches, not to mention the limited ground incursion to date.

Several Iranian Kurdish groups of a nationalist and secular character are spread in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, especially within the regions of Choman, Sidekan, Soran, Sayed Sadiq, Khalifan and Balkayti, the most important of which is the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party (Hadka), which was founded in 1945 and is led today by Mustafa. There is the “Kurdistan Democratic Party” (Hadak), which split years ago from the mother party (Hadaka), and it is led by Khaled Azizi and is also based in northern Iraq. There is also the leftist “Komala” party led by Abdullah Muhtadi. And the Kurdish nationalist organization “Khabat”, led by Baba Sheikh Hosni. This is in addition to the cadres and leaders of the Iranian Kurdish Communist Party, which calls for a “federal, secular, pluralistic, democratic Iran.” Likewise, the “Free Life” party (PJAK) has emerged as an effective military force since 2004, and is active in several Iraqi border areas adjacent to Iran and Turkey, and it adopts the ideas of the leader of this party, Abdullah Ocalan.

Since February 2017, the office of the “Center for Cooperation of Iranian Kurdish Parties” was established through which the main Iranian Kurdish organizations cooperate, but it has not established a clear base of armed military operations inside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Its presence is a shelter for the families of the cadres of these organizations and dissidents persecuted by the Iranian intelligence services.

Despite the expansion of the Kurdish-Iranian and Turkish opposition presence within the Kurdistan region, it is a disciplined presence despite. The governorates of the Kurdistan region of Iraq have become “a shelter and a base of operations for many members of these groups and their families, or a transit point for persecuted Kurds or who trying to migrate from Iran towards EU.” Erbil follows a rational policy by creating a balance between the interests, security and stability of the region on the one hand and its relationship with Tehran and Ankara on the other. According to a Kurdish official in the city of Kucuk

While ruling out that current Iranian and Turkish operation against these groups could turn into a wider military invasion, he argued that “Baghdad’s weakness and government vacuum encourage both Ankara and Tehran to project their power in the mountains of Kurdistan.”

While the Iranian opposition organizations in Kurdistan deny any connection with the demonstrations taking place in Iran today, with their support, the Kurdish journalist Hamid Karzan considers that “Iran is trying to export its internal crisis, it is trying to export its political crisis, especially since there is information about a critical health situation for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, what is shaking the political situation in Iran.Because there are many states. The Revolutionary Guards IRGC are a state in itself with the Republic Guide, reformists, and conservatives.

Reproduction of the Turkish model

Coinciding with the Iranian strikes, Turkish forces have returned to launch new attacks on positions of Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, which Ankara says that they are members of the opposition Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Turkish military has been carrying out cross-border operations in the Kurdish-run area of northern Iraq for nearly three decades.

Turkey has not stopped targeting the leaders and elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern and northeastern Syria and which Ankara says are affiliated with the “Kurdistan Workers” classified as terrorist.

Tehran, according to some readings, seeks to replicate Turkey’s handling of Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Government of Iraq (KRG) and has always been accused of colluding with Turkish intelligence services in coordinating attacks against PKK fighters. According to observers

The weakness of Masoud Barzani’s leadership is the main reason why the Kurds are “victims of all.” He maneuvers thinking that he can maintain the security of his authority over Iraqi Kurdistan, but he has not yet understood that he must pay a price for it, and that price includes engaging directly in the fight against the Turkish, Iranian, and Syrian Kurds. According to the writer Ali Al-Sarraf in an article in Al-Arab London newspaper.

It seems that the protests taking place in most Kurdish cities in Iran reminded Tehran of the existence of camps for Iranian Kurdish trainees and Iranian Kurdish political leaders, whom Barzani’s authority should have pursued and handed over to Tehran.

The complicity of Barzani’s leadership with the coordinating framework groups was aimed at appeasing Iran. But it was also not enough, as he did not obtain guarantees that Iraqi Kurdistan would not be subjected to new Iranian attacks. Tehran has deliberately made its recent strikes more fierce and closer to the heart of Erbil, in order to convey to Barzani’s leadership a message demanding that he continue to ally with the coordination framework groups, pursue all Iranian Kurds who find safe haven in his areas of authority, and provide clear signals of his willingness to cooperate with the IRGC in pursuit work, similar to what he does with Turkish intelligence.

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