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Why Is Iran Fighting This Kurdish Group Again After 20 Years?

29 July 2016
Why Is Iran Fighting This Kurdish Group Again After 20 Years?

Last month, reports emerged of clashes between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and members of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI or KDPI), reportedly killing six from each side. These clashes came just a few days after the IRGC announced that they had killed five members of another Kurdish group, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PEJAK). Several days later, news of more clashes between the PDKI and the IRGC in the area of Oshnavieh (known as “Shno” in Kurdish) in northwestern Iran was made public. Then, in early July, Iran reportedly shelled Camp Liberty near Baghdad Airport in Iraq, which hosts several dissident Iranian Kurdish groups, wounding at least forty individuals.

Most recently, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of the Iranian Majles, survived what appeared to have been an assassination attempt on the car in which he was travelling in Kermanshah (also in northwestern Iran) that left two other occupants dead. Just this past Saturday it was announced that the IRGC had arrested three individuals connected with the assassination attempt.No specific details were offered on the alleged attackers nor was it made clear if they had any connection with any armed groups, but they were arrested in Kermanshah making the odds of them being Kurdish fairly high.

These clashes between the PDKI and Iranian security services represent the first major escalation between the two in twenty years—since they agreed to a ceasefire in 1996, which saw the Kurdish group agree to withdraw from Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan. Coming as they do during a time of seriously heightened tension between Iran and several regional rivals, many observers (myself included) automatically assumed that these clashes were a function of a proxy war. A closer examination of the situation, however, revealed that this may not have actually been the case.


First and foremost, sponsoring separatist clashes inside Iran would be very much in line with the confrontational (some might say reckless) nature of Saudi Arabia’s recent strategy towards Iran: doing something that it knows will anger Tehran, thereby provoking it into doing something stupid in response. Say—for example—standing idly by as the Saudi embassy in Tehran is stormed by protestors and set ablaze.