TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said its troops killed or wounded 30 Kurdish rebels in a fresh assault on the mountainous border with Iraq where witnesses reported fierce fighting and shelling on Saturday.
A commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said the military push was launched after giving the rebels a one-month “grace period” during Ramadan to withdraw from the area from where they have launched ambushes and sabotage attacks on gas pipelines.
“The Revolutionary Guards forces have killed or injured 30 members of the PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) terrorist group since Friday afternoon to now,” Colonel Hamid Ahmadi told the official IRNA news agency.
PJAK is an offshoot of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been pounded by Turkish air strikes in recent weeks.
One Turkish air strike killed seven civilians late last month and on Saturday Iranian soldiers shot dead a Kurdish shepherd outside the border town of Haj Umran, according to the town’s mayor, Maghdid Ahmed.
Hundreds of people have fled their homes in the area to small camps since mid-July.
Witnesses and local officials reported fighting in the Qandil mountains and shelling around the Iraqi village of Sone.
The PKK has fought for Kurdish self-rule for more than 27 years in a conflict that has killed 40,000 people.
Managing the PKK presence is a tricky task for Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish government with Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, and to the south a fragile, power-sharing central Iraqi government with whom the Kurds still disagree about territorial and oil rights.
The PKK has previously said it believes Turkey and Iran are coordinating their attacks in the region and that it would join forces with the Iranian offshoot to better counter the assaults.
A PKK spokesman confirmed that would happen.
“After realising that the Iranian forces are not only targeting the PJAK party but targeting all Kurds and their achievements, for this reason we announce that from now on we will start fighting the Iranian forces side-by-side with PJAK fighters,” Dozdar Hamo told Reuters
“From now on we will start to cooperate directly to support the PJAK and together defend the achievements of the Kurdish people.”
Additional reporting by Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil, Iraq and Mitra Amiri in Tehran; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Karolina Tagaris