A month after a senior Iranian official called on Iraq to “expel Iranian rebels” from Iraqi Kurdistan, or expect Tehran to take “preventative measures” against the armed groups, the Tehran Times on 8 September came out with the headline, “Iraqi Kurdistan’s inaction over Kurdish militants angers Iran”, signaling an imminent cross-border military operation.
While Turkey’s last wave of incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan and parts of northern Iraq has intensified after its launch in April 2021, with airstikes targeting areas hundreds of kilometres away from its border both in the Kurdistan Region’s Sulaymaniyah province and in Shengal (Sinjar), northern Iraq, signals have been coming from Iraq that it was also preparing to step in.
As Turkey’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty was met with justifying remarks from senior Iraqi officials and no international reaction, the Iranian military officials also then gave signals of cross-border operations twice within a month.
“We call on the Iraqi government to take more serious action to expel these groups from Iraqi Kurdistan so that Iran does not have to take preventative measures against… these armed terrorists,” said secretary-general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, on 10 August 2021.
Finally, Tasnim News Agency of Iran reported on 6 September that Mohammad Pakpour, the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Force, said they were ready to deliver a “decisive and crushing” response to groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan, asking the local residents to “stay away from the strongholds of the terrorists to be safe from any damage”.
A few days after Pakpour’s statement, the issue made the headline of the Tehran Times, a medium carrying the messages of the Iranian administration to the world.
With a discourse resembling that of Turkey’s, and putting the emphasis on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK’s presence in the region, the article tried to explain why Iran was “angered” by “Iraqi Kurdistan’s inaction”:
“Nearly two weeks ago, the KRG’s Ministry of Interior requested the Kurdish opposition parties from neighboring countries not to use the territory of the Kurdistan region as a base for their operations and to spare the KRG the involvement in regional conflicts. But this request seems to have been insufficient as Iranian media outlets reported that the KRG-based anti-Iran groups have made new movements. Iraqi Kurdistan Region has been used for a long time by such anti-Iran terror groups as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its offshoot, PJAK, which are active in both Iraq and Turkey, to launch occasional attacks against the positions of Iranian border guards and border areas in northwestern parts of the country, Press TV has reported…”
Journalist and analyst Fehim Taştekin, had drawn attention to a possible rivalry between Iran and Turkey over the control of the Iraqi Kurdistan on 19 August.
He had indicated in his article that, “as the United States braced to withdraw its combat forces from Iraq, the country’s Kurdistan Region is emerging as the scene of a mounting struggle for control between Turkey and Iran.”