The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) has dismantled a terrorist group in northwestern province of Kurdistan, the Iranian media reported today. According to I.R.G.C.-affiliated Tasnim News Agency, three terrorists were killed during the operation and one suspect was arrested. Authorities also confiscated “large” quantities of weapons and ammunition. I.R.G.C. officials in Kurdistan claimed the terrorist group planned to conduct terrorist attacks inside Iran. Tasnim also quotes the I.R.G.C.’s Hamza Sayyed al-Shohada Headquarters in Kurdistan as saying that the terrorist group was linked with the “Global Arrogance” – a term Iranian leaders use for the United States and its allies.
Comment: The June 7 twin terrorist attacks in Tehran and the subsequent killing and arrest of dozens of militants allegedly linked with the Islamic State indicate that Iran is no longer immune from terrorism and sectarian violence that have wreaked havoc in the Middle East and South Asia in recent years. Most of counterterrorism operations by the I.R.G.C. since the Tehran attacks have been carried out in provinces with sizable but marginalized ethnic and religious minorities – particularly Kurdistan and Sistan and Baluchestan provinces.
While a vast majority of Iran’s about eight million Sunni minority have rejected the Islamic State’s call to join the terrorist group, the latest attacks in Tehran and the disbandment of terrorist cells across the country demonstrate that Iran has a growing terrorism problem. In addition to Islamic State infiltration, Kurdistan and Sistan and Baluchestan provinces have also suffered low-intensity insurgency and separatism for decades.
The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) earlier this year announced that it will continue armed resistance against the Iranian regime. Mustafa Hijri, PDKI’s secretary general, added that their resistance was not “just for the Kurds in Iran’s Kurdistan, but it is a struggle against the Islamic Republic for all of Iran.” The group’s headquarters is located in the Iraqi Kurdistan.
PDKA had renounced violence two decades ago, but it resumed militancy almost two years ago, claiming that dialogue with the Iranian regime failed to yield results. PDKI militants based in the Iraqi Kurdistan have repeatedly crossed the border and clashed with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Iranian province of Kurdistan.
Tehran claims that Iranian Kurdish groups receive support from regional governments, including Saudi Arabia, to fight Iran. But Hijri rejects the allegations saying that it is the Iranian regime’s policy to paint not just the Kurds but all resistance groups and political activists as foreign pawns.
Similiarly, Iran’s southeastern region – home to a sizable yet largely marginalized Sunni population – has been a breeding ground for local militant and separatist movements as well regional and international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Sunni Baluchs, who constitute a plurality of the population in the province, have long suffered state-sanctioned discrimination, economic marginalization, cultural repression, disproportionate executions, torture, detention without trials and extra-judicial killings. Sistan and Baluchestan also borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Islamic State has gained a foothold recently.