BAGHDAD – Iran carried out deadly cross-border attacks in northern Iraq on Wednesday, targeting the headquarters of three Iranian Kurdish opposition parties that support ongoing protests in Iran.
The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in Koysanjak district in Erbil, the Kurdish Komala Party in Zarkwezela village in Sulaymaniyah province, and the Kurdistan Freedom Party in Kirkuk province were targeted.
Iran’s Kurdish Democratic Party confirmed the death of two of its members, while Kurdistan Freedom Party leader Hossein Yazdanpanah told Kurdish media that his group had suffered “huge losses”.
One of the attacks hit a civilian area near a primary school. Footage circulating on social media shows children screaming and running for shelter behind rocky fields.
“It was a quiet morning until the sound of the bomb blast shook our house,” said Salar Ali, a 47-year-old farmer from Koysanjak. He immediately rushed to the school, where he was reunited with his 10-year-old son.
“We’re a quiet, peaceful town and we don’t deserve what’s happening to us,” he said.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, claimed responsibility for the attacks on what it called “bases run by separatist terrorists” and vowed to continue targeting Kurdish groups. Meanwhile, the Iranian army launched artillery attacks on several areas bordering Irbil province for the fifth day. No casualties were reported in these attacks.
But the attacks underscored the Iranian government’s uneasiness over the protests that have rocked the country for nearly two weeks. They began after 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini fell into a coma and died after being detained by the country’s “morality police”. Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds injured in the ensuing crackdown, according to rights groups.
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi addressed the protests in an interview broadcast on state television on Wednesday but portrayed them as largely violent and instigated by Western powers.
“Who are the anarchists? They want to wreak havoc in this country and threaten security,” he said, referring to the US.
Raisi pledged to “pursue” the investigation into Amini’s death and said a forensic investigation was underway.
But at the same time, Raisi, a hardline cleric and former judiciary chief, vowed to prosecute some of the protesters.
“They must be prosecuted,” he said of those he accused of “causing trouble and chaos”.
The protests erupted in Iran’s largely Kurdish west, where Amini is based and shares a border with Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Iranian Kurdish parties in exile have long been in Iraq and have expressed support for the protests in Iran, but there are no indications that they are directly linked to the unrest.
But analysts say the attacks are an attempt by Tehran to deflect blame for the uprising at home on outside forces. “What the Iranians want to say is that the unrest in Iran is fueled by political opposition parties [in Iraq]Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish political analyst based in Irbil, said. “But actually inside Iran, there is a public discontent of the Iranian people against the Iranian regime.”
Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf said he would summon Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad to condemn the violence, while the Kurdistan Regional Government condemned the attacks as “improper behavior, a distortion of the course of events and a source of surprise.”
It was the first Iranian attack in Iraq since March, when the Revolutionary Guards claimed a missile attack on a vacant villa in Irbil owned by a Kurdish oil tycoon who was targeted for being involved in energy talks with Israel.
“The constant Iranian message in all these attacks that started last year … is that we can harm you and America cannot protect you,” Osman said. “And Kurdish officials are left only to protest.”
Erin Cunningham in Washington contributed to this report.