Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) confirmed on Sunday that it had launched deadly missile attacks against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq a day earlier.
Rockets struck the headquarters of two Iranian Kurdish opposition parties in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region with reports saying at least 11 people were killed and 50 others wounded.
The missiles hit the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) in the town of Koya, 300km north of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.
It was the first such attack since 1996.
“The terrorists’ headquarters … was successfully struck by seven surface-to-surface rockets on Saturday by the missile department of the Guards’ aerospace force,” the IRGC said on its Sepah News website on Sunday.
The statement added its drone division was also involved in the attack.
According to Soran Louri, spokesman for the KDPI, which is blacklisted as a “terrorist” group by Tehran, the death toll in the rare cross-border attack was 15, he told AFP news agency.
About 30 others were wounded, according to local medical sources.
Iranian state television showed images of the missiles being launched and drone footage of the impact.
“The punishment of transgressors was planned following the recent months’ wicked acts by terrorists from the Kurdistan realm against the Islamic Republic’s borders,” the IRGC statement said.
It cited incursions by numerous “terrorist teams” into Iran’s West Azarbaijan, Kurdistan and Kermanshah provinces bordering Iraq.
KDPI recently clashed with Revolutionary Guards forces in the towns of Marivan and Kamyaran in Iran’s own Kurdistan region.
The Kurdish group was holding a meeting at the time of the missile attacks, and the party’s secretary-general and his predecessor were among the wounded, according to one of its officials.
The headquarters is in Koysinjaq, 60km east of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Bilal Wahab from The Washington Institute told Al Jazeera the attack was retaliation for the groups’ increased “activism and militancy” inside Iranian territory.
“Some of these Iranian Kurdish opposition groups have been trying to approach Washington, DC, and find a foothold in the increased American effort in curbing Iranian influence in the region. So this is very specific to Iran’s enemies,” Wahab said.
Iraq’s foreign ministry denounced the Iranian missile strike.
“Iraq protects the security of its neighbours and does not allow its territory to be used to threaten these countries,” spokesman Ahmed Mahjoub said in a statement.
“But it categorically rejects the violation of its territorial sovereignty by strikes against certain targets on its territory with previous coordination.”
KDPI is Iran’s oldest Kurdish movement and has seen several of its leaders assassinated by Tehran in the past.
Commenting on the events from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Al Jazeera’s Rob Matheson said the timing of the attack was significant as it comes a couple of days after the Iranian consulate in Basra was torched during violent protests over lack of public services and jobs.
“There is nothing to link these two events but there is a lot of speculation in Iraq that the latest missile attack in Kurdistan is Iran showing that it can strike back and that it can strike back powerfully.”