September 21, 2021
Major General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, has defended the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ incursions on Iraqi territory in the Kurdistan region over the past two weeks.
The commander said IRGC missile and drone strikes on “terrorist” strongholds would continue in the coming days to mark the 41st anniversary of the eight-year war with Iraq.
Without explicitly naming the Kurdistan region as the focus, he said “terrorists in northern Iraq” had peshmerga training camps, barracks and meeting places in which they were creating “insecurity” in Iran’s own border zones by ambushing government forces. The IRGC would continue attacking sites in northern Iraq until the threat was “completely eliminated”, he said.
Officials of the Islamic Republic rarely if ever mention the Kurdistan Democratic Party, a splinter group from the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, one of the oldest parties in Iran, in these statements. But the nature of the recent offensive leaves no doubt as to who the IRGC is targeting. Members of the group announced just shy of six years ago that they had embarked on an armed struggle against the Islamic Republic, after sporadic assassinations and assaults on the group’s bases going back to the early 1990s.
The IRGC has also shelled the positions of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran in the past, and even fired rockets from inside Iran. These attacks, however, were meant only to suppress the group and reduce the possibility of attacks inside Iran – not to eliminate them entirely.
The latest wave of attacks in the Kurdistan region began two weeks ago, coinciding with an official visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kazemi to Tehran. So far, neither the Iraqi central government nor officials in the Kurdistan Region have issued a formal statement condemning the incursion. It is unclear how far the attacks are being carried out with officials’ knowledge or consent, or how the Iraqi government plans to respond at all; the complex internal situation in Iraq may be leaving government officials unable to openly or practically oppose the onslaught. But if this continues, the Islamic Republic may interpret the official silence as tacit agreement with the strikes. If, on the other hand, the Iraqi government condemns them, Iran’s actions could easily be referred to the United Nations as a potential breach of the UN Charter.
If the Islamic Republic genuinely intends to “eliminate” political opposition to the regime in the Kurdistan Region it is possible this could even be considered a war crime, as the civilian death toll is likely to be disproportionate and could even amount to an attempted genocide. So far, it has not been possible to quantify the damage caused by the recent attacks, which have mostly involved drones equipped with explosives.
More than three decades have passed since the end of the Iran-Iraq war. But as no peace treaty was formally signed, the two states are still technically in a state of temporary ceasefire. Any attack on Iraqi soil by Iran could therefore be read as a restoration of the state of war – or, for as long as Iran does not demand compensation from Iraq for the 1980s war, an excuse for Iraq to refuse to pay up. In fact, Iraq could even demand military compensation for any damage inflicted in the current assault by the Revolutionary Guards.