Tensions in Iran Spill Across the Border Into Iraq

As security forces in Iran move to curb protests that have embroiled cities across the country for more than a week, the repercussions are being felt in neighboring Iraq, where Tehran has been attacking Kurdish opposition groups.

Nine people were killed and at least 32 others, including children, were injured in semiautonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq on Wednesday after the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iranbombarded the region for the fifth straight day, the Iraqi News Agency reported, citing the regional health ministry.

The drone and missile strikes targeted offices and paramilitary bases of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups in Iraqi Kurdistan, including in the cities of Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Pirde, Kurdish officials and rights groups said. They were the latest in a string of attacks on the region since Saturday, after Tehran accused Kurdish groups based in northern Iraq of fomenting some of the demonstrations that have overtaken Iran for 12 days.

Those protests were set off after the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, on Sept. 16. Ms. Amini had been detained over claims that she had violated Iran’s head scarf law, which mandates the covering of hair for adult women.

The demonstrations quickly expanded to dozens of cities in Iran and have evolved into the most widespread challenge to the country’s authoritarian government since 2009, bringing a brutal crackdown from security forces.

The authorities in Iran said on Monday that 41 protesters had been killed and more than 1,200 arrested. Human rights groups said that the toll was much higher but that was difficult to pinpoint as the government has restricted cellphone and internet service. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for the release of more than 23 journalists it said had been detained since the start of the protests.

The dramatic scenes of resistance have thrust Iran into a turmoil that has cut across ethnic and social divides and drawn in people from all walks of life. Videos coursing through social media have shown more women across Iran burning their head scarves and cutting their hair in public shows of defiance. Students and teachers at more than 20 universities staged a mass strike on Wednesday.

Protests in Tehran last week. Unrest in Iran has been fueled by the death in police custody this month of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been accused of violating the country’s head scarf law.Credit…Wana News Agency, via Reuters

The unrest has been especially intense in Kurdish areas of northwestern Iran, near the border with Iraq.

The Kurdistan region of Iraq has long hosted Iranian Kurdish opposition groups, including paramilitary forces with bases dug into the mountains between Iraq and Iran. Tehran frequently conducts cross-border attacks against those forces, strikes that have intensified since the latest protests began.

The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, one of the opposition groups targeted on Wednesday, has accused the Revolutionary Guards of using the strikes to divert attention from the protests.

“We call on the international community not to remain silent,” the group said in a Twitter post.

The Government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in Iraq denounced the strikes and civilian casualties, calling the attacks “repetitive violations of the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region.”

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that rockets, artillery and 20 drones were used in the attacks on Wednesday, adding that the actions “cast a shadow over the region, and will only contribute to more tension.”

The United Nations also condemned the attacks, criticizing the treatment of Iraq as the “region’s backyard where neighbors routinely, and with impunity, violate its sovereignty.”

The health minister for the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq, Sama Barzanji, said that rescue teams had been deployed and that hospitals across Erbil were “on alert” to receive the wounded.

Iran has wielded considerable influence over Iraq for most of the past two decades, through religious and economic ties and the backing of militias. But the antigovernment protests sweeping Iran could distract Tehran from its oversight of such proxies in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Iran, which is majority Shiite, has long counted on the support of the Shiite Muslim majority in Iraq to maintain a foothold there.

But clashes last month in Baghdad between two of the most powerful Iraqi Shiite groups — militias backed by Iran and fighters loyal to the Iraqi nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — have worried Tehran.

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