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Friday, October 5, 2007      New: Take a Stand

Iran artillery drives thousands of Kurds from Iraq villages

WASHINGTON Iran was has launched an unprecedented offensive against Kurdish separatists based in northern Iraq, according to sources in the region.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been shelling Kurdish villages in northern Iraq and raiding strongholds of the separatist Party for Freedom and Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK. The Iranian shelling has sparked the flight of more than 10,000 Kurds from the villages of Haj Umaran, Khurmal, Penjwin and Pishar as well as the Kandil mountain areas in the Iraqi provinces of Irbil and Suleimaniya, the reports said.

On Aug. 23, IRGC troops entered the autonomous Kurdish zone of northern Iraq and attacked suspected PJAK targets, Middle East Newsline reported. The raid was said to have been the result of a new policy by the Teheran regime.

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"While sporadic violence in the Kurdish-populated provinces of Iran is nothing new, the Pasdaran's [IRGC] most recent incursion into Iraqi territory, which according to a Kurdish official destroyed several villages, demonstrates the top brass and elite's willingness to defend the integrity of Iran's central government at all costs," the Jamestown Foundation said in a report. "As a result of the PKK's alleged relations with the United States and relative Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, the 'Kurdish threat' ranks very high among government cabinet members."

Analysts suggested that Iran's crackdown was connected to the U.S. capture of five IRGC officers in 2007 in Irbil. They said IRGC has sought to destroy PJAK and the Kurdish military infrastructure, destabilize Kurdistan and spark U.S. intervention.

"Evidently, the Revolutionary Guard's ever-increasing political and economic clout and close alliance with President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad gives them a dangerous mandate," Bend Kaussler, an assistant professor at James Madison University, said. "Together with Turkey's June incursion into northern Iraq to pursue members of the PKK, the Pasdaran's campaign not only violates Iraqi sovereignty, but also seriously jeopardizes regional security."

The report said Ahmadinejad has filled his Cabinet with former military commanders, many of whom fought against Kurdish separatists. Jamestown cited Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Najar, a former IRGC officer who participated in the crackdown against Kurdish separatists in the 1979 rebellion. Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi served as an IRGC prosecutor in Kermanshah during the Iran-Iraq war, while Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad was a public prosecutor in Iran's Kurdistan.

In 2006, Iranian security forces were reported to have killed 21 ethnic Kurds and injured scores of others. In August 2007, IRGC launched Operation Cleansing of Salmas Region.

"It is evident that relations between the central government and the country's ethnic Kurds reached an unprecedented volatile level," the report said. "Although earlier raids by the Pasdaran were confined to direct engagements with PJAK fighters, the shelling and incursions into Kurdish villages in August seemed to have been concerted efforts, intended to weaken and destroy the entire Kurdish military infrastructure."

Jamestown said IRGC was concerned that the United States was using the Kurds to undermine the Teheran regime. The report said the new IRGC commander, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, has proposed a major operation against PJAK in Iraq.

"Iran's willingness to cross the border into Iraq now seriously raises the possibility of a broader conflict that could draw the Iraqi authorities as well as U.S. forces into direct confrontation with Iranian troops," Jamestown in a report entitled "Iran Moves Against PJAK in Northern Iraq," said. "Given the White House's directive from February this year authorizing U.S. troops 'to kill Iranian agents in Iraq' as well as the most recent decision by the Bush administration to designate the Pasdaran as a 'specially designated global terrorist' organization, this could be a potential scenario."

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