ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iranian forces clashed with an armed Kurdish opposition group in a rural mountainous area in the country’s northeastern Kurdistan province in what appears to be the first such incident to occur after two weeks of relative calm, a local watchdog reported on Friday.
Hengaw, which documents and writes about human rights violations against Kurds in Iran, reported that one member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed and two more were injured. It also cited informed sources claiming that the opposition fighters were from the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), the Rojhiilati wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Until now, PJAK has not been reported to be part of a recent wave of fighting between such groups and the Iranian military.
The various opposition parties have complicated and often tenuous relationships with each other and it is not clear to what extent, if any, they have been coordinating their activities in recent weeks.
According to the report, the clash broke out in Saravabad (Sawllawa) county’s Sawllawa Heights and resulted in environmental damage to the surrounding area.
Tehran later confirmed that the clash had taken place. The semi-official Tasnim agency reported on Saturday, quoting a military statement, that the IRGC had lost one soldier but had "ruined" a number of fighters in an "anti-revolutionary terrorist" group and that the rest of its fighters present had fled.
In recent months, Kurdish Iranian (Rojhilati) groups have engaged in multiple skirmishes with Iranian troops, resulting in over a dozen casualties on both sides. The main opposition fighters appeared to have been armed wings or affiliates of roughly seven Rojhilati parties operating in the area, according to reports at the time.
The uptick in armed exchanges died down after the IRGC responded with a two-day operation of heavy cross-border shelling of a number of the parties' bases inside the Kurdistan Region and threatened more decisive action.
Media agencies have reported that opposition groups were due to meet with Iranian government officials in August, including AL-Monitor which cited sources from various parties confirming the claim and quoting one as saying that the talks were part of efforts to “lay a foundation” for “substantive negotiations.” The individual also voiced skepticism that Iran would be sincere in tackling the "Kurdish question" through such meetings, which they said were mediated by the Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution.
This comes as heightened tensions continue in the Gulf region, with Tehran currently engaged in a delicate two-front standoff with the UK and the US, which the White House claimed nearly escalated to a military confrontation in June.
In early July, British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, saying it was headed for Syria in contravention of EU sanctions. Tehran disputes this and, in an apparent act of retaliation, seized a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz.
This followed two other incidents involving oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, creating a general sense of instability in the area, leading to an increase in international crude prices.
The US military is planning an initiative to provide security for shipping in the region and the UK has already deployed its Royal Navy to escort British-flagged tankers.
Editing by John J. Catherine