A US citizen was among 14 people killed in an Iranian bombing campaign on Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the US said, as Tehran stepped up attacks on foreign dissidents it accuses of fanning protests.
The killing of an American citizen risks raising tensions with Washington at a time that talks over reviving the nuclear deal with Iran have stalled.
The US state department provided few other details. Iran launched a barrage of drone and missile strikes on Iranian Kurdish opposition groups in the town of Koya, near the regional capital of Erbil, and near the city of Sulaimaniya on Wednesday, Kurdish officials said.
The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, a leftist armed opposition group that is banned in Iran and known by the acronym KDP, and Komala, an exiled Iranian Kurdish opposition party, said several of their offices were targeted in Wednesday’s strikes.
The strikes occurred after authorities accused dissidents in neighbouring Iraq of fanning protests rocking Iran, particularly in the country’s north-west where most of the country’s 10mn Kurds live and where Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody inspired the protests, came from.
Iran began bombing the opposition groups in northern Iraq on Saturday, days after the protests began.
Brigadier-general Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the ground forces of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said this week that Iran “completely demolished” the bases of “terrorists” with 73 ballistic missiles and drones. According to the semi-official Fars news agency, he added that Iran’s operations would continue until there was “complete disarmament of separatist terrorist groups”.
Iraq’s government condemned the attack and summoned Iran’s ambassador. Civilians were among those killed in an attack “which represented the continuation of Iranian forces’ encroachment on Iraq’s sovereignty”, a statement from Iraq’s foreign ministry said. It also warned of repercussions for regional stability and security.
Germany, UK and the UN mission also condemned the attack. “Rocket diplomacy is a reckless act with devastating consequences,” the UN mission said.
The unrest comes at a moment of heightened tension between the US and Iran, with the US increasingly frustrated by Iranian intransigence in stalled nuclear negotiations. The Biden administration issued a fresh round of sanctions on Iran on Thursday, targeting entities the US says are involved in the sale of Iranian petroleum and petrochemical products.
“So long as Iran refuses a mutual return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [the nuclear deal], the United States will continue to enforce its sanctions on the sale of Iranian petroleum and petrochemical products,” said Brian E. Nelson, under-secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a press release.
These economic sanctions “are reversible in the event of Iran’s return to JCPOA compliance”, the Treasury statement said. These added to sanctions imposed last week against Iran’s morality police and other law enforcement organisations.