Within the mountains of Iraq, Iranian opposition fighters are feeling the strain

SULAIMANYA, Iraq – Sitting beneath an oak tree on a mountain in Iraq’s Kurdish area, Mohammad Kurd mentioned he just lately fled neighboring Iran after two pals had been killed by safety forces and the highly effective Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps started going door-to-door to cease the anti-government. protesters

His saggy khaki uniform, typical of Kurdish fighters, nonetheless appeared new. In his skinny coat, he shivered within the chilly mountain air.

sir Kurd and a small variety of others like him are the newest recruits from Komala, one of many armed Iranian Kurdish opposition teams which have been primarily based within the mountains of Iraq’s Kurdistan area for many years.

“I’m coaching in order that I can grow to be a peshmerga worthy of my individuals and those that misplaced their lives within the revolution,” mentioned Mr. Kurdo, 27, makes use of a time period for Kurdish fighters. “You may’t combat a battle with simply feathers and minds.”

A number of thousand Iranian Kurdish opposition fighters are coaching right here in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan area for what they are saying is a growing revolution on the border of their homeland. However the teams are beneath growing strain from all sides.

Iran has been attacking its mountain bases with missiles and drones, forcing fighters to disperse to tents scattered increased up the mountains. The Iraqi central authorities, primarily based in Baghdad to the south, needs Iranian teams to disarm. And more and more, they’re on the middle of escalating tensions between the 2 nations.

The Iranian assaults are each an expression of anger on the opposition’s presence in Iraq and a reminder of the vulnerability of the fighters, who’re closely constrained by their Iraqi Kurdish hosts.

Kurds are an ethnic minority in each Iran and Iraq. However in Iraq, they’ve rather more energy, ruling over a complete semi-autonomous area within the north of the nation created with the assistance of a US-led no-fly zone within the Nineties. Virtually all Iranian opposition teams primarily based there contemplate an unbiased Kurdish state it’s an unattainable dream for now and so they demand as a substitute the self-rule of the Kurdish areas inside Iran.

The Kurdistan Regional Authorities in Iraq, which is strolling a tightrope between supporting Kurdish solidarity and inflaming Iraq’s highly effective neighbor, bans fighters from crossing the border with Iran.

On Monday, an Iranian commander warned particular villages, cities and neighborhoods within the Iraqi Kurdistan area that they might be the subsequent goal for harboring opposition figures.

If Iran had been to focus on civilian areas, it might be a big escalation of assaults which have to date been aimed primarily on the bases of Iranian opposition teams. Missile and drone assaults on these bases in late September killed not less than 18 individuals, together with two ladies and a toddler, based on opposition teams and hospital officers.

Many of the protesters who fled Iran and sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan come from Iran’s Kurdish provinces, the place the anti-government demonstrations of the previous two months have been significantly virulent. Activists say there are not any dependable estimates of the variety of protesters who’ve fled Iran. A minority of them signed as much as be fighters.

In his hometown of Divandarreh, Mr. Kurd drove a bus and transported small home equipment on the market on the black market, a job that carried the chance of being shot by safety forces. Like many protesters, he mentioned he was indignant that Iran’s leaders had been spending the nation’s wealth on conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen whereas its residents went hungry.

Amongst his different grievances with Iran’s authoritarian rulers, he mentioned that in his personal area, Kurds ought to have the suitable to be educated of their native language, Kurdish, however they can’t accomplish that.

In September, when the present wave of anti-government protests started, Mr. Kurd mentioned one in every of his pals, a 29-year-old businessman, was shot and killed when he tried to take down a safety digicam. One other buddy, a tailor in his 30s, was shot within the abdomen and died 4 days later, he mentioned.

He then determined to attempt to cross the closed border into Iraqi Kurdistan and joined a wave of pilgrims who stormed the border throughout a spiritual vacation, crossing it with out being checked.

An official from Komala, formally often known as the Komala Occasion of Kurdistan, mentioned 4 or 5 different protesters had joined the group prior to now two weeks for navy coaching at its mountain base. Amongst them was a 20-year-old college pupil becoming a member of her mom who was already within the camp.

Close to the bottom of the mountain about 50 miles from Iran, homes hit by missile strikes in September lay in ruins. Some bore emblazoned pictures of executed and assassinated leaders from the motion’s historical past.

In a small bakery, a wrestler sang a love tune whereas making paper-thin slices of bread.

Since 1986, when Komala established its base within the Kurdish area of Iraq through the Iran-Iraq battle, its fighters have dreamed of a revolution of their nation. Now, older opposition leaders are pinning their hopes on younger Iranians main protests inside Iran.

“Hundreds of thousands of Iranians went to the entrance line to guard Iran through the Iran-Iraq battle,” mentioned Nevid Mehrawar, a member of the Komala management. “Now his little children say: ‘My father didn’t give his life for this dictatorship.'”

Iran has demanded that the Iraqi Kurdish regional authorities and the central authorities expel or disarm Iranian fighters or put them in closed camps. An Iranian commander mentioned Monday that his nation had launched its assaults on opposition teams within the Kurdistan area when that didn’t occur.

Iraq’s new authorities is dominated by Iran-backed events that additionally need to shut bases and disarm fighters. However Iraq’s new prime minister mentioned this month that leaders in Iraq’s Kurdistan area had refused.

Iran has accused Komala and different opposition teams of being separatists liable for current killings in Iran’s Kurdish-majority provinces and fomenting the demonstrations, however has offered no proof.

sir Mehrawar mentioned Komala had about 1,000 fighters in Iraq and was armed to defend himself. He mentioned he was not launching armed assaults inside Iran as a result of he needed to keep away from undermining what he described as an ongoing civil revolution.

One other armed opposition group, the Kurdistan Democratic Occasion of Iran, has been among the many hardest hit in Iranian assaults since September. Eleven individuals had been killed at their bases close to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Koya, based on social gathering and hospital officers.

Mustafa Mauludi, 63, a member of the group’s administration, mentioned he joined it 43 years in the past.

“We’re not going out and we’re not going to surrender our weapons,” Mr. The reality “Neither Iraqi forces nor Kurdish forces can defend us.”

One other opposition group, the Kurdistan Freedom Occasion — often known as PAK — fought with U.S.-backed Iraqi Kurdish forces in opposition to the Islamic State terrorist group when it invaded northern Iraq in 2014. Now, in its base close to the Iraqi border Iraq’s Kirkuk province, helps maintain the road in opposition to ISIS, however can also be within reach of hostile Iran-backed militias which might be a part of Iraqi authorities forces.

9 of its fighters had been killed in Iranian assaults in September.

PAK chief Hussein Yazdanpana, 56, mentioned teams like his are usually not on the forefront of Iran’s anti-government motion.

“The leaders of this battle are within the streets of Iran,” he mentioned.

After years of division, lots of Iran’s opposition events in Iraq at the moment are in talks to unite and current a simpler entrance, one thing they are saying may benefit Iran’s broader anti-government motion.

“The weakest level is that there isn’t any united opposition in opposition to the Iranian authorities,” mentioned Siamand Moeini, co-leader of one other Iranian opposition group, the Free Life Occasion of Kurdistan.

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