|Children in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, protest against Iranian shelling of border towns [EPA]|
At least six soldiers of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, including a senior officer, have been killed in clashes with ethnic Kurdish fighters on the border with Iraq, the semi-official Fars news agency says.
Some opposition websites have referred to Abbas Asemi as the most senior commander of the Guards in the important holy city of Qom in southwestern Iran’s southwest.
“General Asemi of the Qom branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed along with five of his comrades in clashes with terrorist rebels of the PJAK [Party of Free Life of Kurdistan] in the Sardasht area,” Fars said on Friday, without giving any further details.
A statement from the Guards confirmed Asemi’s death in an explosion but did not say when he was killed.
“In recent clashes with PJAK in northwestern Iran, a car belonging to the Revolutionary Guards blew up and some members of the Guards, including Commander Asemi, were killed,” the statement said.
Iranian troops launched a major offensive last week against PJAK fighters operating out of rear-bases in neighbouring Iraq.
The autonomous regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan demanded on Tuesday that Iran respect the border after a Guards commander said Iranian forces had taken “full control” of three PJAK camps inside Iraq.
In Tehran, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, Brigadier-General Mohammad Pakpour, demanded Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authorities prevent the fighters from attacking Iran from Iraqi territory.
The fighting had already killed two soldiers – a colonel and a captain – and wounded three others, according to security officials in Tehran.
PJAK has said two of its fighters were killed and four wounded. Iranian forces have repeatedly shelled border districts of Iraq’s Kurdish region, targeting PJAK bases.
Gun battles and shelling continue in the mountainous border region despite a warning on July 3 by the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, over Iran’s cross-border operations.
Earlier this month, Fars quoted an Iranian military official accusing Barzani of “giving 300,000 hectares of land to the PJAK terrorist group without the knowledge of the central government in Baghdad”.
“Iran reserves its right to target and destroy terrorist bases in the border areas,” the official was reported as saying.
“This terrorist group carries out operations against the Iranian nation with the support of Iraq’s Kurdish regional government.”
Like Iraq and Turkey, Iran has a large Kurdish minority, mainly living in northwest and western areas of the Islamic Republic.
Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s, but since the overthrow in 2003 of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein relations have improved.