Despite deadly border clash, Iran-PKK war unlikely

Al Monitor | Fazel Hawramy: The May 27 clash near the Iran-Turkey border between Iranian border guards and what the Iranian media described as a “terrorist group” has raised fears that yet another dimension will be added to the conflict-ridden Middle East.

While some Iranian media identified the group as the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), a group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Al-Monitor has learned from several sources close to the PKK and PJAK that the incident did not involve PJAK fighters but rather that PKK guerrillas — the archenemy of Turkey — were unwittingly embroiled in the incident.

On May 23, a group of PKK militants were on patrol near the Turkish-Iranian border and just inside Iran, near the northwestern city of Urmia, when they came under attack from an Iranian border outpost. Three PKK guerrillas from Van in Turkey were killed in the clash. A few days later, on May 27, the PKK retaliated by targeting a convoy of Iranian border guard vehicles, killing two guards and seriously wounding three more soldiers, sources close to the PJAK and the PKK said. The soldiers were not part of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps but rather were from the border guards unit of the regular army. The commander of Iran’s border guards, Brig. Gen. Qassem Rezayee, blamed Turkey for the incident. Moreover, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi said in relation to the incident in a press conference, “It was a bitter incident and we have informed Turkey about this issue through diplomatic channels. … We hope to receive a satisfactory response from Turkey, and based on this response we will take appropriate measures.”

Several Kurdish opposition groups, including the PJAK, have been active for years in the border areas near Iraq and Turkey, and almost all have clashed with Iranian security forces. However, the last time Iran and the PJAK became embroiled in a serious war was years ago, in the summer of 2011. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, but in September that year — after a bloody two-month war — Tehran and the PJAK reached a tacit agreement reportedly with the help of one of the ruling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a long-term strategic ally of Iran.

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