Blaming Kurds for unrest, Iran threatens Iraq with offensive

BAGHDAD — A senior Iranian military official visiting Baghdad this week threatened Iraq with a ground military operation in the north of the country if the Iraqi military did not fortify the countries’ common border against Kurdish opposition groups, officials said. several Iraqi and Kurdish officials.

Such an offensive, if carried out, would be unprecedented in Iraq and raise the specter of regional spillovers from Iran’s domestic unrest, which Tehran has painted as a foreign plot without providing evidence.

The warning was issued to Iraqi and Kurdish officials in Baghdad this week by Iranian Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani, who arrived in the capital on Monday for an unannounced two-day visit. The force is an elite unit within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Iran alleges long-exiled Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq are inciting anti-government protests in Iran and the smuggling of weapons into the country. The Iranian authorities have provided no proof of these allegations, which the Kurdish groups have denied.

It’s unclear how serious the Iranian warning is, but it puts Baghdad in a tough spot. It is the first time that Iranian officials have publicly threatened a ground operation after months of cross-border tensions and called on Iraq to disarm opposition groups active on its territory.

Now in their second month, protests demanding the overthrow of Iran’s clerical leaders erupted after the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody in Tehran. Thousands of people have been arrested and hundreds killed as Iranian authorities wielded live ammunition to keep the streets under control, but the protests show no sign of abating. Amini’s Kurdish regions have often been at the center of unrest.

Iran has blamed foreign interference for the protests and singled out Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq, accusing them of direct involvement and having ties to Israel . Tehran has repeatedly launched missile attacks targeting the groups’ bases inside Iraq, killing at least a dozen and wounding many more.

Ghaani arrived in Baghdad the day after the latest Iranian attack targeting opposition bases in Koya, Erbil province, in which at least three people were killed.

He met with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and other leaders of the Coordination Framework alliance, President Abdul Latif Rashid, a Kurd, and Iran-backed militia factions. Sudani came to power as the prime candidate of the Coordination Framework, an alliance made up mostly of Iranian-backed parties.

Ghaani’s demands were twofold: to disarm the bases of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq and to fortify the porous borders with Iraqi troops to prevent infiltration.

If Baghdad did not meet the demands, Iran would launch a military sweep with ground forces and continue bombing opposition bases, Ghaani told his Iraqi counterparts, according to two Shiite politicians, two militia officials and a senior Kurdish official. All spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media on the sensitive meeting.

The area of ​​concern to Iran falls under the authority of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and would force Baghdad to negotiate joint coordination.

Iraqi officials have privately said they see no evidence to support Iran’s allegations against Kurdish groups.

Kurdish opposition parties, while acknowledging deep ties to Kurdish regions of Iran, also deny that they smuggle weapons to arm protesters. Amini, the young woman who died in police custody, was from the Kurdish town of Saqqez, the first region to witness protests in September.

Kurdish opposition parties have said their involvement goes no further than providing moral support, raising awareness and helping to provide medical care to injured protesters arriving from Iran.

Soran Nuri, a leading member of Iran’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDPI, said he was aware of Iran’s demands. “We have never smuggled weapons to or from any country,” he said.

“We hope that (the Kurdish region) will not succumb to these threats.”

Iraqi security officials have repeatedly tried to persuade Tehran that no weapons are smuggled from Iraq to Iran, but “Iran ignores this”, according to a senior Kurdish official who is expressed on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

Some Kurdish groups have been engaged in low-level conflict with Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, leading many members to seek political exile in neighboring Iraq where they have established bases.

Opposition members in Iraq openly carry medium-sized weapons in bases, saying it is for self-defense.

Tehran has long claimed that Israeli Mossad agents are active in Iraqi Kurdish areas.

In March, Iran claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck near the US consulate in Erbil. Iran said at the time that it was targeting an Israeli “strategic center”, Kurdish officials denied the existence of such a center.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian reiterated the allegations in a recent tweet, accusing Israel and “certain Western politicians” of planning “civil war, destruction and disintegration of Iran”.

“The Iranian regime is in paranoid mode,” said Randa Slim, program director at the Middle East Institute. “They strongly believe that the Mossad is using Kurdish territory and Kurdish opposition groups to send weapons (and) fighters to Kurdish areas of Iran.”

A sweeping operation in northern Iraq, she said, would bolster the regime’s public narrative that outside forces are fomenting unrest and settle a lingering dispute Iran has had with the semi-Kurdish region of Iraq. -autonomous regarding the activities of the groups on its territory.

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