Iran has launched deadly cross-border airstrikes in northern Iraq to punish Kurds for their role in supporting protests over the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in Iranian police custody that is still shocking the Tehran regime.
13 people were killed and 58 injured in an Iranian drone attack on military bases of the exiled Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in northern Iraq.
The KDPI said in a statement: “The forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran attacked the bases and headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party with missiles and drones.”
Iran said it was attacking terrorist bases, while the US described the attacks as brazen.
The attack came as Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi addressed the nation a fortnight ago to mourn the death of Mahsa Amini, but also accused the protesters of being agents of foreign powers.
“The enemy has targeted national unity and wants to turn people against each other,” the ultraconservative president said.
Raisi said Iran would not tolerate “chaos and riots” but could “dialogue” on “different ways of applying the law” – a possible reference to Iran’s morality police’s strict enforcement of the mandatory hijab.
It was the first time Raisi directly addressed the street protests on national TV, but mentions of his dialogue are unlikely to comfort a tough young generation of Iranians who have lost faith in an aging clerical establishment – especially those ordered by a hardline president. The strict application of the hijab law earlier this summer.
Activists in Iran, speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “Our confidence is growing. Even after being arrested, we do not back down. It is very beautiful. I believe something is going to change this time.”
Lawyers acting for Amini’s family, defying government pressure, have filed a formal complaint against those responsible for her arrest. They have called for a detailed independent investigation into her death, including the manner of arrest and transfer to hospital, as well as photographs and videos of the arrest and any brain scans.
Amini, now a symbol of resistance to the regime, died in police custody after being picked up by morality police in Tehran for not wearing a hijab properly.
The KPDI called on its supporters in Iran to return to the streets, with a London spokesman saying: “These demonstrations are gaining support. It started with a Kurdish woman and wearing the hijab, but has now spread to more than 100 cities. The chant in the streets is: ‘Death to the regime. Death to the Dictator.”
Reports about the number of deaths during the protests vary; Oslo-based human rights group Iran Human Rights said the number was at least 76, while Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency put the toll at “around 60,” including several members of the Iranian security forces.
The regime will be keen to ensure that the protests do not spread to more working-class districts, and the protesters are likely to be portrayed as anti-patriotic liberals at odds with the regime’s values.
Iran’s police said Wednesday they would deal with the protests “with all their might.” However, the country’s women’s affairs minister, NCih Khajali, said she had met the arrested women in jail and demanded the release of those not guilty of major crimes.
The UN said its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had urged Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters.
“We are concerned about reports of increasing deaths, including women and children, linked to the protests,” said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN chief.
Iran has shut down the internet to prevent protesters from using social media to report the extent of the repression to the outside world. Up to 20 journalists have been arrested, and newspapers are heeding the government’s line that the protests are being manipulated by Saudi Arabia or Western media. Some papers are debating whether mandatory hijab is required under Sharia law.
The regime continues to claim a response from the West after Raisi’s performance at the UN General Assembly in New York was seen as a breakthrough. But the persistence of the protests and the desire of prominent Iranians, including musicians, actors, sports stars and academics, to demand that the voices of young Iranians be respected have hit the regime.
Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, an award-winning actor, appeared without a hijab to speak at the funeral of fellow actor Amin Tariokh. Iranian football coach and former player Ali Karimi has also supported the demonstrations, as has musician Hossein Alizadeh.
In Britain, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British Iranian dual-national who spent five years in an Iranian prison, cut her hair for BBC Persian cameras to show solidarity with the protests in Iran.
Companies said the constant internet outages were hurting business.
On Tuesday, authorities in Iran arrested the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for “inciting rioters,” Tasnim news agency reported. They are also threatening celebrities and football stars who support the protesters.