After large-scale demonstrations in Oshnavieh last night IRGC units in northwest Iran launched an attack on what they called “terrorist bases” in the border zone of Helgord, in the Balakayati area between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Local news agencies in the region say an artillery attack by the IRGC took place on Saturday evening. It came amid wide-ranging efforts to clamp down on the massive pro-democracy protests that have erupted in Iran since last Friday, particularly in Kurdish regions.
Iranian Kurdish opposition groups, whose central camps are over the border in Iraqi Kurdistan, have had a number of military units stationed in Helgord – a vast, mountainous and hard-to-access region – for the past few years.
In a statement, the IRGC claimed it was attacking “terrorist and anti-revolutionary groups”. Fars News Agency claimed that Kurdish groups had provided “evil support to the riots and actions of thugs”, suggesting they – not the actions of the police – were responsible for the popular demonstrations that have broken out in 80 cities of Iran since last week.
Last night the nearby border city of Oshnavieh was filled with crowds of protesters who by the small hours of Saturday morning appeared to have chased security forces out of many streets.
On Friday some Iranians speculated online that Kurdish groups opposed to the Islamic Republic might have sent their own forces into the city to drive back the police.
IranWire contacted Sarveh Naseri, the main spokesman for Kurdistan Organization of the Communist Party of Iran, and Soran Nouri, a leading member and spokesman for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan.
Both said their group had no current plan to send military units over the border to support the protesters. Naseri said: “Our party's current focus is on establishing greater coordination between the demands of the people of Kurdistan and the nationwide campaign in Iran, as well as trying to organize large opposition protests against the Islamic Republic abroad.”
On Saturday morning, hundreds of additional plainclothes and special forces officers were deployed to different parts of the city of Oshnavieh. Local sources told IranWire reconnaissance helicopters were flying over the city and surrounding area.
Military patrols have also reportedly been stationed outside the city’s hospital, at central intersections and in the main square. The market and shops were mostly closed on Saturday. One local said it felt like “unofficial military rule”.
Though there were large numbers on the streets last night, eyewitnesses said, and though they did clash with armed officers, the city had not “been captured” or “fallen” to demonstrators as some online commentators claimed.
What did happen, they said, was that locals furious at the murder of Mahsa Amini, who was from Kurdistan, by the “morality patrol” had gone back out to the streets en masse. The Workers’ Welfare Bank, Sepah Bank and an IRGC safehouse were seen on fire during the night.
Two people, named as 16-year-old Amin Marafet and 21-year-old Milan Haghighi, were said to have been killed the previous night.
One source said that on Friday some people had demonstrated outside the homes of three men said to have had a “direct role” in the killings: Ramin Soleiman, Haj Hassan Badaghi, and Rahman Sarut. “But these three,” they added, “had run away from their homes fearing for their lives, and did not fall into the hands of the angry protesters."
The three were described as “Jash”: a term used in Kurdistan to describe Kurds who work with the Iranian state architecture, in this case the IRGC.
The Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw reports that over the course of Saturday security agents raided Kurdish homes throughout Oshnavieh and arrested more than 60 people. The previous day, Iran’s Chief Justice Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei had green-lit a policy of “preventative detentions” across Iran.
A civil rights activist in Oshnavieh told IranWire: “Popular protests in Oshnavieh could resume on any day, at any moment. But it looks like due to the large numbers of armed forces, they’ll continue after dark.”