Tehran, Iran – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has attacked positions in northern Iraq occupied by Kurdish groups, while anti-government protests continue in Iran’s Kurdish-majority western regions and elsewhere.
The elite force’s ground division confirmed early Monday morning that it had hit three areas in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region with missiles and drones, inflicting “heavy damage” on two Kurdish groups that Tehran considers “terrorist” organizations.
The semi-official Tasnim website, which is close to the IRGC, quoted local sources as saying that 26 members of Komala and the Democratic Party of Iran-Kurdistan groups were killed in the attacks.
The United States Central Command condemned the cross-border attacks in a statement, saying they violate Iraqi sovereignty and “endanger the hard-won security and stability of Iraq and the Middle East.”
The IRGC has attacked positions the groups say have been held since the start of protests in Iran more than two months ago as they insist they are smuggling weapons into the country and conducting operations to destabilize the country.
The latest attack comes days after the IRGC’s Quds Force commander, Esmail Qaani, traveled to Iraq for high-level meetings, and after repeated warnings from Tehran to Baghdad to disarm or relocate the groups.
Protests broke out across Iran in mid-September following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Saqqez in Iran’s Kurdistan province, who was arrested by the vice squad in Tehran for allegedly not following the dress code of the country held for women.
In recent days, protests have been fiercest in northwestern Kurdish-majority provinces, with videos continuing to emerge from several cities, including Mahabad, Bukan and Piranshahr in West Azerbaijan and Javanrud in Kermanshah.
In Mahabad, several videos circulating online, which could not be independently verified, showed a convoy of heavy armored vehicles allegedly deployed by Iranian authorities, while some videos included the sound of gunfire and others heard helicopters flying overhead.
The IRGC confirmed in a statement on Sunday that it is “reinforcing” its forces in the northwestern regions of the country, in a statement it said in response to activities by “armed criminals and separatist terrorists”.
Human rights organizations based abroad have reported that several people were shot dead by security forces during protests on Sunday night.
Iranian authorities have consistently denied that security forces use live bullets.
Authorities have not provided an official breakdown of the total number of people killed since the protests began, but have said more than 50 members of the security forces have been killed in “riots” and operations by foreign-backed “terrorists”.
Human rights groups say more than 400 people have been killed, including about 60 children.
Tehran has accused foreign powers including France, Germany, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States of being behind the unrest in the country.
It has also responded to sanctions from various Western governments with sanctions of its own.
Footballer supports protests
As unrest continues in Iran, the country’s national football team has been scrutinized by the international media as it prepares to face England in both teams’ opening game on Monday afternoon.
Iran and England are both in Group B, along with the US and Wales.
At a press conference on Sunday, Iran’s team captain Ehsan Hajsafi appeared to be implicitly expressing support for the protests and condolences to families who have lost loved ones.
He also began his remarks by saying “in the name of the God of rainbows,” a reference to a phrase used in a video by Kian Pirfalak, a nine-year-old boy who was killed after being shot in the town of Izeh. , in Khuzestan province, last week.
Pirfalak’s mother blamed security forces at his funeral, but authorities say “terrorists” on a motorcycle killed him and six others.
Karim Bagheri and Yahya Golmohammadi, two former national football team players and current members of the backroom staff of leading Iranian club Persepolis, were disciplined on Sunday for posting messages in support of the protests on their social media accounts.
Bagheri was fined 20 percent of his salary, while Golmohammadi was fined 15 percent.
Two actresses, Katayoun Riahi and Hengameh Ghaziani, were also arrested on Sunday.
They had filmed themselves without a head covering in support of the protests.
Iran on Sunday issued a death sentence linked to protests for the sixth time, saying the convict blocked a main street in Tehran, fought with Basij paramilitary forces at gunpoint and “terrorized” civilians.