There has been one explosion in Iran grabbing international headlines recently. The attack on a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz which killed 25 people has understandably filled column inches across the world. AP described it as “the deadliest attack in the country in nearly a decade.” But it wasn’t the only explosion involving in Iran in recent weeks – In fact, another blast entirely reveals a great deal more about the true nature of the Iranian regime.
Earlier this month, Iranian missiles pounded a Kurdish opposition party base in northern Iraq. Hamdi Alkhshali and Muwafaq Mohammed of CNN reported that at least 12 people, including three women and three children were killed and 50 others injured in the attack on the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, or PDKI.
In addition to the sheer brutality of the attack, it was especially striking for two other reasons. Firstly, it openly violated the territorial sovereignty of a neighbouring country. AP reported that the Iraqi Foreign Ministry issued a statement criticizing Iran’s attack, saying it “rejects the violation of Iraqi sovereignty by bombing any target within Iraqi territory without prior coordination with the Iraqi authorities to spare civilians the effects of such operations.” Iran has scant regard for the rights of its regional neighbours, using proxies such as Hezbollah and Houthi forces to dominate Lebanon and Yemen respectively. However, Iran has rarely been so brazen in its’ disregard, as the attack in northern Iraq.
Secondly, it was perhaps one of the most nakedly open offensives Tehran has carried out against the Kurdish opposition. Predictably, according to Rikar Hussein and Mehdi Jedinia, reporting for Voice of America, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards described the PDKI opposition as “terrorists.” But they didn’t stop there. The Revolutionary Guards specifically called out the Kurdish group as being “linked to the US.” Reuters even quoted Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying that the strike on the PDKI was a message to “All those who have forces, bases and equipment within a 2,000 km (1,200 mile) radius… that our missiles are highly precise.” The United States and Israel have long been the ‘bogeymen’ of Tehran, blamed when things go wrong. The unsubtle implication is of course, that the Kurds, Americans and Israelis are to be treated as one. In other words, for Iran’s leaders, Kurdish opponents are the potent enemy within.
After all, the Iranian leadership desperately needs a scapegoat, someone to blame as the country’s economy goes to the dogs. The impact of the economic freefall on ordinary Iranians can no longer be hidden. And those very same ordinary Iranians are increasingly pointing the finger of blame at a government which has increased military spending by 128% over the last four years, while watching Iranians become 15% poorer over the last decade. As far as Iran’s leaders are concerned, a new guilty party must be found and the rebellious Kurds are easy fodder. This was reflected by Raman Ghavami, a London-based counter-insurgency analyst, who told Voice of America that “Attacking Kurdish opposition groups and executing Kurds have been used as a tactic to get Persian nationalists’ support for decades.”
It is therefore no surprise that the attack on the PDKI in Iraq was no isolated event. A human rights organisation estimates that Iran has executed 44 Iranian Kurds in the past six months. Meanwhile, Amnesty International recently raised the alarm over two more Kurds facing the death penalty and the United Nations appealed unsuccessfully to stop the execution of three additional Kurdish citizens.
These incidents have been reported in local media outlets, but have not made headlines around the world. They should do. While the likes of AP, Reuters, CNN and Al-Jazeera all reported the attack in Iraq on PDKI headquarters, they failed to place it in context. Had they done so, they would have been able to join the dots to the bigger picture. Because the real story is not just about the Kurdish opposition under fire, but about an Iranian leadership under real threat.