Protest-hit Iran again strikes Kurdish groups in Iraq
ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) - Iran again launched deadly missile and drone strikes overnight into Monday against Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Iraq whom it accuses of stoking unrest inside the Islamic republic.
One Kurdish peshmerga fighter was reported killed in mountainous northern Iraq, where two of the groups said their bases had been targeted in the latest such barrage of aerial attacks in recent months.
Iran has been shaken by more than two months of protests sparked by the death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest for allegedly breaching the strict dress code for women.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has repeatedly struck Kurdish dissident groups based in Iraq, which it labels "separatist anti-Iranian terrorist groups".
One of the groups, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), said it was hit with missiles and suicide drones in Koya and Jejnikan, near Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
"A member of the peshmerga was killed in an Iranian strike" in the Koya area, said party official Ali Boudaghi.
"These indiscriminate attacks are occurring at a time when the terrorist regime of Iran is unable to stop the ongoing demonstrations in (Iranian) Kurdistan," said the PDKI, the oldest Kurdish party in Iran.
The Iranian Kurdish nationalist group Komala said its headquarters was also targeted.
"We've been carefully prepared for these types of attacks & have no losses for the moment," it said on Twitter.
The government in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan condemned the strikes.
Late Monday, Iraq's federal government issued its own denunciation which "strongly" condemned the Iranian strikes.
The foreign ministry said Iraq should neither be "a battleground or area for settling scores," nor a base for "harming neighbouring countries."
Iran's Guards charged that the Kurdish groups are backed by "the global arrogance", code for arch foe the United States.
It said it had targeted their "headquarters and conspiracy centres" in Iraq and that "the terrorists were struck and suffered heavy casualties".
The US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, condemned the "illegal" Iranian strikes.
"Such indiscriminate and illegal attacks... jeopardise the hard-fought security and stability of Iraq and the Middle East," said CENTCOM chief General Michael Kurilla.
The United Nations mission in Iraq said in a statement that "repeated attacks, violating Iraqi sovereignty, must cease".
In Tehran, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani stressed that the Islamic republic "desires that there be no threat to Iran's security from Iraqi territory".
He said that during two meetings last month, "we insisted with the Iraqi authorities and the Kurdistan region on the fact that this region should not be a place of transit of material and weapons to be used in the unrest.
"So far, those expectations have not been met."
Asked if Iranian forces would enter Iraqi territory to fight the armed groups, Kanani stressed that Iraq must move against them and secure the common border.
He expressed hope Iraq's government would deploy "border guards at the common border, so that Iran does not have to take other deterrent measures to repel threats."
'Vulnerable to attacks'
Iraqi Kurdistan has since the 1980s hosted several Iranian Kurdish opposition groups which have in the past waged an armed insurrection against Tehran.
In recent years their activities have declined, but the new wave of protests in Iran has again stoked tensions.
Rights groups on Monday accused Iranian security forces of using live fire and heavy weapons to suppress protests in Kurdish-populated regions in Iran's west, intensifying a deadly crackdown.
Iran's latest cross-border strikes come less than a week after similar attacks that killed at least one person, and following attacks in late September that killed more than a dozen people.
The Iranian attacks also come a day after Turkey carried out air raids against outlawed Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan and northern Syria.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, has fought the Turkish government since the mid-1980s and has long operated rear bases in northern Iraq.
Hamzeh Hadad, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, tweeted that, "Whatever the intention of Tehran is for targeting Iraqi Kurdistan, it is a failure of both Baghdad and Arbil for allowing their territory to be vulnerable to foreign attacks."