Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and other units mobilized near the Iraqi border across from Kurdish forces in recent weeks, indicating that Tehran is seeking to stabilize the Kurdish area and rebel groups based across the border in Iraq.
The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, a militia group fighting for autonomy in Iranian Kurdish areas and based in Iraq, stated last week that there were “heavy clashes” between a Peshmerga unit and the IRGC.
The party said that at least three members of the Iranian force were killed and several injured, with two Peshmerga deaths during the fighting.
Last month, the IRGC fired seven missiles targeting the Kurdish rebels in Iraq, killing at least 11.
Iranian Kurds cannot wait for the regime to fall, and they look forward to new U.S. sanctions set to kick in on Nov. 4, which might push Tehran to the brink. The United States has allied with the Kurds—arming, training and sharing intelligence with various groups, making the Iranian Kurds a strong ally against the regime. It can also be assumed that Israel has ties to Iranian Kurds, just as it does with their counterparts in Iraq and elsewhere.
No official data exists on how many Kurds live in the mountainous northwestern region. However, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organizations (UNPO) report published in 2017 estimates 8 million to 10 million Iranian Kurds, or around 15 percent of the population.
Arif Bawecani, head of the Iranian liberal Kurdistan Independent Party (Parti Serbesti Kurdistan, or PSK), which is striving for Kurdish rights and independence from Iran, told JNS that the situation for Iranian Kurds is downright “bad.”
If the financial situation gets worse, then it will increase the already burdensome unemployment rate in the Kurdish region, said Bawecani, who is based in Oslo, but is currently visiting Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan where the party has an office.
Most Kurds are spread across Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Each of the Kurd communities in these states have multiple and separate political and/or military organizations that compete for power.
The Kurd party leader said that Iran remains a threat to the entire world, and especially to America and Israel; even so, the world’s superpower has yet to react strongly to Tehran.
He noted that the Iranian border with Iraq is “full of Iranian military personnel with many different kinds of weapons.”
“I do not think the United States will change or remove this regime,” stated Bawecani, claiming that “the Iranian regime knows that Kurds and all other nations are waiting for regime change, and that the Kurds are ready to become independent.”
Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at Israel’s IDC Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told JNS regarding the Iranian Kurds that “my understanding is they want a federal system, not independence.”
Historically, the Iranian government has underinvested in its periphery towns, including the Kurdish area, added Javedanfar.
“Along with discrimination, they also face economic troubles, such as unemployment,” he said, pointing out that “it is not only the Kurds that are upset about the country’s handling of the economy, but such displeasure cuts across all ethnic groups.”
Is Iran’s regime stable enough to withstand more sanctions?
Javedanfar estimated that he does not believe that the Iran regime’s stability is threatened at the moment, but “after the new U.S. sanctions kick in, we will need to wait and see how the regime reacts.”
He said “if the Iranian response is measured, well-planned and organized, then the chances of instability will be reduced.”
But, he continued, “if the status quo of infighting continues, then at least in the medium to long run, there will be questions as to whether the regime can continue on its current path of not negotiating with [U.S. President Donald] Trump.”
Javedanfar speculated that if Trump is re-elected and sanctions on Tehran ratcheted up, then the regime would be pressed to negotiate with the Americans or risk real threats of domestic instability. Already, mass protests have occurred in different cities for more than a year in reaction to the falling economy and financial instability.
The PSK Party is to the political right, but does not take a religious or ideological stance; instead, it is focused on the Kurd’s political struggle, explained Bawecani.
“The PSK is a democratic party representing the true aspirations of the Kurdish people in East Kurdistan—to establish a free and independent Kurdistan in the area now occupied by Iran,” he said. “The Kurds have shown that in the area that is under Kurdish control, human rights and democratic processes are respected.”
PSK does not believe in military action to achieve Kurds’ rights; it emphasizes diplomatic activity. The party has nine board members, in addition to Bawecani, and two vice presidents, and is a registered organization in Norway.
Bawecani said that the party has developed a network of friends and supporters throughout Kurdistan, and more importantly, government officials in several Iranian cities—a fact that Kurds hope will help their ambitions in the future.