Iran shells Kurdish opposition group in Iraq over Mahsa Amini protests

Tehran has accused Iranian-Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest

Protesters in Erbil, Iraq, hold up images of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman who died in police custody in Tehran. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Iran fired artillery at armed Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq on Saturday, accusing them of fanning the continuing protests across the country.

For more than a week now, the Iranian regime has been struggling to contain widespread anti-government demonstrations ignited by a young woman's death in police custody.

The death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who was detained by the country's morality police in Tehran, triggered unrest in the capital and Iran's provinces.

Amini’s family is from Iran’s western Kurdish region bordering Iraq.

Iran has blamed armed Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest, particularly in the north-west where most of the country's roughly 10 million Kurds live.

The country's official IRNA news agency said the attack on Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, where Iranian and Turkish Kurdish opposition groups have bases, was carried out by the country’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, regarded as close to Iran's military, said the attack against “Komalah and Democrat terrorist groups came after illegal entry by these groups’ armed teams into the Iranian border cities in recent days”.

It quoted the Revolutionary Guard as saying the operation would continue to ensure border security.

There was no comment on the attack from the Iraqi government in Baghdad or the authorities in the Iraqi Kurdish region.

For years, Iran has launched attacks with heavy weapons and drones on what it calls “terrorist” groups in northern Iraq.

In 2018, Iranian Fateh-110 ballistic missiles hit the offices of two Iranian-Kurdish parties in the Iraqi-Kurdish town of Koya, killing 18 people. The Revolutionary Guard launched another attack in March, destroying the house of a businessman near Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, injuring several people in the area.

Iran claimed the site had been used by Israeli intelligence, a claim firmly rejected by Baghdad and Erbil.

Iranian state media reported on Saturday that 41 people have been killed during the protests. Iranian human rights groups outside the country say at least 50 people have been killed since the demonstrations began on September 16.

The protests have directly challenged the authority of Iran's clerical rulers. A video posted on social media showed a demonstration in the northern city of Babol in which young people try to remove portraits of current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the organiser of the country's 1979 revolution, from the gate of a university. Bystanders cheer them on and shout "death to the dictator."

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday that the nation must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility”.

He “stressed the necessity to distinguish between protests and disturbing public order and security”, according to state media reports of the president's phone call to the family of a member of the Basij militia who was killed while taking part in the crackdown on unrest in the north-eastern city of Mashhad.

At least three times this week, mobile internet has been disrupted in Iran, the NetBlocks watchdog has reported. Activists say the move is intended to prevent video footage of the violence from reaching the world.

On Saturday, NetBlocks said Microsoft's Skype video-calling app was now restricted, the latest such measure after platforms including Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn were targeted.

In an effort to help sustain internet connection, the US is making exceptions to its sanctions regime on Iran — a move which Tehran said on Saturday was in line with Washington's hostile stance.

The protests are the largest to sweep the country since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when Reuters reported that 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters — the bloodiest confrontation in Iran's history.

On Friday, state-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, and the army promised to confront "the enemies" behind the unrest.

In neighbouring Iraq, dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied outside the UN compound in Erbil on Saturday, carrying placards with Amini's photograph and chanting "death to the dictator," referring to Mr Khamenei.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: September 25, 2022, 11:54 AM