Iran says new missile attack on Iraq aimed at protecting border

ERBIL, Iraq — Iran said on Monday its latest strikes on Kurdish opposition bases in northern Iraq were necessary to protect the country’s borders, while Kurdish officials condemned the missile and drone attacks as a unprovoked aggression.

Iran’s strike on Sunday night killed a member of Iran’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, said Mohammed Nazif Qaderi, a senior Iranian Kurdish group official in exile in Iraq.

The group said Iranian surface-to-surface missiles and drones hit its bases and adjacent refugee camps in Koya and Jejnikan. The group also claimed the strikes hit a hospital in Koya.

The Iranian strikes come following a visit to Baghdad last week by Iranian Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani. During the visit, Ghaani threatened Iraq with a ground military operation in the north of the country if the Iraqi army did not fortify the countries’ common border against Kurdish opposition groups, Iraqi officials said and Kurds.

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

Iran alleges that these groups are inciting anti-government protests in Iran and smuggling weapons into the country, which the Kurdish groups have denied. Iran has provided no evidence to support its claims.

On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told reporters that Iran had acted to “protect its borders and the safety of its citizens on the basis of its legal rights”. He alleged that the government in Baghdad and the Erbil-based administration of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq had failed to implement purported commitments to prevent threats against Iran from Iraqi areas.

Kanaani said that last month Iranian and Iraqi officials discussed the issue in Tehran and Baghdad. He said Iran had demanded that Iraqi Kurdistan not be a “place for the export of arms” to Iran by the “separatist” groups based in Iraq.

“Unfortunately, Iran’s expectations have not materialized so far,” Kananni said.

The government of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq condemned the strikes as a “flagrant violation of international law and neighborly relations”.

Qaderi told The Associated Press that Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq supported the protests in Iran, which he described as a reaction to “the politics of this regime” which he said oppresses its people. He denied that his group sent fighters or weapons to Iran.

He said his group had moved troops away from the border to avoid giving Iran an “excuse” for further attacks. He called on the international community to prevent further aggression from Iran.

Iran has periodically launched airstrikes against the bases of Kurdish groups in Iraq in the past.

The United States has condemned the latest Iranian strikes. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, who heads U.S. Central Command, said in a statement, “Such indiscriminate and unlawful attacks put civilians at risk, violate Iraqi sovereignty, and jeopardize the hard-fought security and stability of the country. Iraq and the Middle East.

Sunday’s Iranian strikes in northern Iraq come a day after Turkey launched deadly airstrikes on northern regions of Syria and Iraq, targeting Kurdish groups that Ankara holds responsible for last week’s bombing in Istanbul.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Al Khor, Qatar, contributed to this report.

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