Kurdish Rebels in Iraq Mountains Shrug off Turkey-Iran Threats

Plans for an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan have angered Ankara and Tehran, but little has changed for Iranian Kurdish rebels at rear bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, France 24 reports.

A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) said reports of a joint Turkish-Iranian military operation against Kurdish rebels in Iraq were mainly intended to unsettle Iraqi Kurds. Speaking in Koysinjaq, 60 kilometers (35 miles) east of the autonomous region’s capital Arbil, Aso Hassan Zada said Iran and Turkey had only one shared interest — their opposition to the September 25 referendum. Both countries fear it could stir separatist aspirations among their own sizable Kurdish minorities.

“Neither country will help the other without something in return,” he said as armed, uniformed men and women trained outside in a courtyard plastered with portraits of their rebel movement’s founders.

The central government in Baghdad has said the nonbinding referendum violates Iraq’s constitution. Coming as Iraqi forces backed by an international coalition battle Islamic State group jihadists in Iraq and Syria, it has also stoked opposition from Washington and Western countries. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that a joint Turkish-Iranian operation against Iraq-based Kurdish rebels from the two countries was “always on the agenda”.

Turkey has battled the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for decades, while Iranian security forces have fought the PDKI and a PKK affiliate, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). Iran, while equally opposed to the referendum, swiftly denied Erdogan’s claim of any planned operation inside Iraqi Kurdistan. But its elite Revolutionary Guards warned: “As always we will strongly confront any group, team or person who wants to penetrate into Iran’s territory for anti-security or terrorist operations.”

From another mountain base, Zelan Vejin, a leader of the PJAK whose fighters also operate along the border with Iran, shrugged off the threat of any joint operation.

“It’s impossible that Iran and Turkey operate together” because of their divergent political aims, she said.

Besides, she added, “Iran always undertakes military actions in secret, never disclosing its intentions, whereas Turkey pre-announces its campaigns.”

The PDKI’s Zada said Ankara prioritizes fighting the PKK inside Turkey and on Iraqi and Syrian territory, while Tehran’s goal is to clear its Iraqi border of PDKI and PJAK militants. Ankara and Tehran have carried out a string of separate military operations against Kurdish rebel bases in the mountains of northern Iraq.

“Our fighters have observed repeated incursions into Iraqi territory by Iranian forces,” Zada said, adding that Iran had deployed artillery units right along the border.

If Iran and Turkey do launch operations, “we will step up our fight inside Iranian territory”, Vejin said.

“Iran has forever occupied our land but it has never managed to defeat us through military means. War does not frighten us,” she said.