By Noah Shachtman
Iranian aircraft attacked three villages inside Iraq over the weekend. The airstrikes — Iran’s first on Iraqi soil since the U.S. invasion — could complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Tehran.
“The bombardments appeared to have targeted the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an Iranian Kurdish separatist group which has launched attacks on Iran from rear-supply bases in the mountains of northern Iraq,” AFP reports. Iran has attacked the Kurdish group before, with artillery. But this is the first time the Iranians followed up, with assaults from the air.
“The incident comes a week after reports of a clash between Iranian police officers and suspected PJAK fighters in the country’s western province of Kermanshah,” Al-Jazeera reports. “At least 10 policemen and 10 fighters were killed in the gun battle.”
Details on the airstrikes remain sketchy. Voice of America says the attacks were carried out by helicopters, which remained in Iranian airspace. Al-Arabiyah television, on the other hand, says it was “Iranian planes [that] raided those villages.”
It is a serious development because the Iraqi airspace is under the control of the US Air Force and under US protection. So the raids are either approved by the United States, as was the case when a US nod was previously given to the Turkish Army, or such operation was a surprise by the Iranians. According to eyewitnesses, the planes were flying at very low altitudes, which may indicate that they were trying to escape detection by radars. So these planes were able to attack many locations. Eyewitnesses and official Kurdish sources said that the raids were carried out by fighter jets and not helicopters.
In February, American fighter jets shot down an Iranian drone flying over Iraq. Such an incursion would’ve likely provoked an angry response from the previous administration. But the reaction to the drone incident was muted — perhaps in the interest of keeping the dialogue with Tehran going.