World View: In Major Escalation, Iran’s Missiles Strike Kurdish Targets in Northern Iraq

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • In major escalation, Iran’s missiles strike Kurdish targets in northern Iraq
  • Iran’s missile attack displays the rising power of the IRGC in Iran

In major escalation, Iran’s missiles strike Kurdish targets in northern Iraq

Protesters outside the burning Iran consulate in Basra on Friday (Reuters)
Protesters outside the burning Iran consulate in Basra on Friday (Reuters)

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) took credit on Sunday for Saturday’s sophisticated missile attack on the bases of two military anti-Iran opposition groups in Koya near Erbil in Kurdistan in northern Iraq. The two groups are fighting for greater autonomy for Iran’s Kurdish community.

The two groups are the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I). Referring to the dissidents as “criminal groups,” the IRGC statement said:

In a successful operation, the Guards’ aerospace unit, along with the army’s drone unit … targeted a criminal group’s meeting and a terrorist training centre with seven short-range surface-to-surface missiles.

[The group’s leaders decided] to ignore serious warnings by officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government about Iran’s determination to dismantle their bases … and the need for an end to terrorist and aggressive actions against Iran.

The missile attacks were apparently very well planned for several weeks in advance. The attack on the meeting room was very precise and occurred when the meeting was in progress. Seven missiles were used in the attacks, killing 11 people and wounding dozens more.

As we reported yesterday, anti-Iran rioters in the southern Iraqi city Basra stormed and burned down Iran’s consulate in Basra. This act infuriated the Iranian officials in Tehran, who summoned the Iraqi ambassador to Tehran to protest the attack, and issued this statement:

The Persian Gulf Director General of Iranian Foreign Ministry [Mohammad Farazmand] voiced surprise over immobility of Basra police and said that despite the promises given by the Iraqi officials through diplomatic channels reassuring about the safety of Iran’s consulate general which was threatened by the provocation of some suspicious elements, the Iraqi government did not deliver on its promises.

Even though Iran’s missile attack on Erbil occurred a day after the Basra rioters’ attack on the Iranian consulate, it is not believed that the two incidents are directly related, since the missile attack had apparently been in preparation for weeks. Nonetheless, anti-Iran protests have been simmering for a long time in Basra and Iran may have wanted to send a message that the anti-Iran protests will not be tolerated.

On Sunday, Iraqi officials issued a statement condemning Iran’s missile strike  not because the strike occurred, but because it occurred without first warning Iraq’s government and coordinating with the Iraqi military:

The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs stresses its rejection of the artillery shelling that targeted Koy Sanjaq district in Erbil on Saturday, leaving scores dead and wounded.

The ministry strongly refuses the breaching of Iraqi sovereignty without prior coordination with Iraqi military authorities to avoid the fall of civilian victims.

So, the second message that Iran is sending is that it can strike deep into Iraqi territory any time it wants, without notifying the Iraqi military in advance.

The two countries fought an extremely bloody war, the Iran-Iraq war, killing 1.5 million people, and climaxing in 1988 with Saddam Hussein and Iraq using chemical weapons against both the Kurds and the Iranians. Iran’s missile attack on Erbil is a major escalation in the tensions between the two countries and a further evocation of memories of the Iran-Iraq war.

Iraq’s government is in complete disarray, with a parliament that has had only two sessions since the inconclusive elections in May and is unable even to elect a speaker.

As I described yesterday, even though it is a mostly Shia Muslim government, Iraqi Shiism has a different theology than Iran’s Shiism, and there are political splits over aligning with the United States or with Iran.

So the second message that Iran sent along with its missiles is that siding with the U.S. against Iran is going to have a cost.

The third message being sent by the missile strike is to Israel. The missiles used on Saturday were extremely precise and coordinated with the drone surveillance. These missiles are considerably more sophisticated than Iran has used in the past and they may have been distributed to Syria or Hezbollah, to be used against Israel. Iraqi News and Mehr News (Tehran) and Reuters and Jerusalem Post

Iran’s missile attack displays the rising power of the IRGC in Iran

Saturday’s missile attack was launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has become increasingly powerful.

As I described yesterday, at the time of the 1979 revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini reinterpreted Shia theology to make himself equivalent to an infallible Imam, and therefore essentially a dictator. He created the IRGC to prevent any outside coups, and to give himself absolute power.

The death of Khomeini in 1989, and the succession as supreme leader by Ali Khamenei, allowed the IRGC to expand its power. The IRGC led the extremely bloody and violent crackdown against peaceful protesters after the fraudulent 2009 presidential election, and then again in the widespread anti-government demonstrations that erupted in late 2017 and early 2018.

Since January, the IRGC has become even more belligerent, particularly in the face of the Trump administrations plans to re-implement sanctions on Iran that were removed following the 2015 nuclear deal.

Recently General Alireza Tangsiri, the head of the IRGC Navy, said that Iran had full control of the Gulf of Hormuz and that it could take military action to block other countries’ oil exports in retaliation for U.S. sanctions intended to halt its sales of crude. According to Tangsiri:

We can ensure the security of the Persian Gulf and there is no need for the presence of aliens like the U.S. and the countries whose home is not in here.

All the carriers and military and non-military ships will be controlled and there is full supervision over the Persian Gulf. Our presence in the region is physical and constant and night and day.

The IRGC was originally created to protect the regime from a coup. Although there have been no overt signs of it, there are some fears that the IRGC will itself launch a coup and create a military dictatorship. Asharq Al-Awsat (Saudi Arabia) and Reuters

Related Articles:

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iraq, Iran, Basra, Erbil, Koya, Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, PDKI, Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, KDP-I, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, Iran-Iraq war, Seyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Ruhollah Khomeini, Mohammad Farazmand, Israel, Alireza Tangsiri, Gulf of Hormuz
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