Can Baghdad disarm Iranian Kurdish parties in northern Iraq?

4 min read
09 October, 2023

Despite consistent reassurances to Iran from the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) regarding their commitment to disarm Iranian Kurdish opposition parties based in the Kurdistan region, uncertainties persist regarding their ability to carry it out.

In March, a border security agreement was signed between Iran and Iraq, primarily aimed at tightening the frontier with Iraq's Kurdish region, where Iranian Kurdish opposition parties have set up bases.

Last month, Tehran said that under the deal Iraq should disarm and relocate these groups to camps before 19 September. Iraqi authorities said that they have implemented all provisions of the deal and have relocated the Kurdish parties to areas approximately 100 km away from the borders with Iran.

But officials and sources from these Iranian parties told The New Arab that reports of their disarmament are untrue.

"In March, a border security agreement was signed between Iran and Iraq, primarily aimed at tightening the frontier with Iraq's Kurdish region, where Iranian Kurdish opposition parties have set up bases"

“For years we had no outposts in the bordering areas with Iran, as per the other parties I can confirm they did not lay down their weapons, but according to a deal with Iraq and the KRG they were relocated to other areas inside the Kurdistan region,” Hassan Rahman Pana, a member of the leadership of Komala (the Kurdish branch of the Communist Party of Iran) told TNA.

“We as Komala deem that demands for laying down our weapons are unreasonable and cannot be accepted. While every ordinary citizen in the Kurdistan region has weapons, as an opposition party how can we lay down our arms.”

He said that Iran and Turkey have other aims behind calls for disarming the Kurdish parties, either in the Kurdistan region or in the Northeast of Syria.

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“Both countries want to weaken the Kurdistan region’s entities in Iraq and Northeast of Syria since both countries have been against the Kurds for centuries, and they are against any political existence of Kurds anywhere,” Rahman Pana stated.

He also said Tehran’s second aim is to end or weaken the influence that the Iranian parties have on fellow Kurds inside Iran.

“Iran wants to diminish our influence over the Women, Life, and Freedom revolution inside Iran, and export its internal turmoils,” he noted. On the first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death, Kurds in Iran responded to calls by the Kurdish parties and held a general strike.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters walk to inspect the damage following an Iranian cross-border attack in the area of Zargwez near the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah on 28 September 2022. [Getty]

A year ago, Tehran launched several deadly missile and drone strikes on bases used by the Iranian parties. The strikes came just after protests began in Iran over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, an Iranian Kurd arrested for allegedly breaching the Islamic Republic's strict dress code. Tehran accused the Kurdish groups in Iraq of fomenting the protests.

Iran also accuses Iranian Kurdish parties of "affiliating" with Israel, voicing concern over the alleged presence of the Israeli spy agency Mossad in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

But Hassan Rahman Pana ruled out the possibility that Iran would launch cross-border ground military attacks against the parties. Moreover, the international community and the US-led global coalition would not accept such an incursion.

"Officials and sources from Iranian Kurdish parties told The New Arab that reports of their disarmament are untrue"

He indicated Iran might launch missile and drone attacks against their headquarters, as it did last year, but cautioned that the headquarters are now populated with civilians and that Kurdish fighters were relocated to other places, without disclosing those positions.

A senior official from the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), speaking on condition of anonymity to TNA, denied the party had laid down weapons or evacuated their positions. The source, however, admitted the party "is under huge pressure" and is in negotiations with the Iraqi and Kurdish sides to "normalise the situation".

"There has been some change in the strongholds and bases of separatist groups within Iraqi territory near the Iranian borders. However, the main agreement does not only involve a tactical shift for these groups, relocating them away from the borders, but it also mandates their complete disarmament," the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, General Mohammad Bagheri was quoted as saying on Saturday by Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

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On the other hand, Iran might be deterred from launching any major operations in northern Iraq to avoid further complicating the Gaza-Israel conflict and bringing conflict to its backyard. 

“While strongly condemning these terrorist and inhumane attacks, we express our condolences and sympathies to the families and survivors of the victims of these crimes and to the people of Israel,” Abdullah Mohtadi, Secretary General of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan wrote on X on Sunday. 

Considering all these factors, it appears unlikely that Iraq and the KRG have the capability to disarm Kurdish parties, leaving Tehran with limited options to achieve its ultimate objective.

Dana Taib Menmy is The New Arab's Iraq Correspondent, writing on issues of politics, society, human rights, security, and minorities.

Follow him on Twitter: @danataibmenmy