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As protests rage on, Iran carries out strikes against Kurds in Iraq

Fighters with the Kurdish Komala Party inspect damage Wednesday after an attack on their headquarters in Iraq's Sulaymaniyah province. (Gailan Haji/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

BAGHDAD — Iran carried out deadly cross-border attacks Wednesday in northern Iraq, targeting the headquarters of three Iranian Kurdish opposition parties who support the ongoing demonstrations inside Iran.

The missile and drone strikes killed at least 13 people and wounded 58, including civilians and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Saman Barzanji, the health minister, said ambulances have struggled to reach some of the affected sites, which are in remote, mountainous areas, and the death toll is expected to rise.

The strikes targeted the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in the Koysanjak district in Irbil, the Kurdish Komala Party in the village of Zarkwezela, in Sulaymaniyah province, and the Kurdistan Freedom Party in Kirkuk province.

The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran confirmed the deaths of two of its members, while the leader of the Kurdistan Freedom Party, Hussein Yazdanpanah, told Kurdish media his group had endured “heavy losses.”

One of the strikes hit a civilian area, close to an elementary school. Footage circulating on social media showed children screaming and running for shelter behind rocky outcroppings.

“It was a quiet morning until the sound of bombing shook our house,” said Salar Ali, a 47-year-old farmer from Koysanjak. He immediately rushed to the school, where he was reunited with his 10-year-old son.

“We are a quiet, peaceful village and we don’t deserve what is happening to us,” he said.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, claimed responsibility for the attacks against what it called “bases operated by separatist terrorists,” and vowed to continue targeting Kurdish groups. The Iranian military, meanwhile, carried out artillery attacks for a fifth day on several areas bordering Irbil province. Those attacks have not resulted in any casualties.

But the strikes underscore the unease in the Iranian government over the protests that have rocked the country for nearly two weeks. They began after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, fell into a coma and died after being detained by the country’s “morality police.” Dozens of protesters have been killed and hundreds injured in the ensuing crackdown, according to rights groups.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, in an interview aired on state television Wednesday, addressed the protests but portrayed them as largely violent and instigated by Western powers.

“Who are the ones who are spreading chaos? They want to create chaos and jeopardize security in this country,” he said, referring to the United States.

Raisi vowed to “follow up” on the inquiry into Amini’s death and said that a forensic examination was underway.

But at the same time, Raisi, a hard-line cleric and former judiciary chief, pledged to put some demonstrators on trial.

“They must be dealt with,” he said of those he accused of “causing trouble and chaos.”

The protests began in Iran’s predominantly Kurdish west, where Amini was from, and which shares a border with Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region. Iran’s exiled Kurdish parties have long based themselves in Iraq, and while they have voiced support for the protests in Iran, there is no indication they are directly connected to the unrest.

But analysts said the attacks were an attempt at deflection by Tehran, an effort to blame outside forces for a homegrown uprising. “What the Iranians want to say is that the unrest inside Iran is instigated by the political opposition parties [in Iraq],” said Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish political analyst based in Irbil. “But in reality it’s public dissent by the Iranians, inside Iran, against the Iranian regime.”

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ahmed Al-Sahaf, said he would summon the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad to protest the violence, while the Kurdistan Regional Government condemned the attacks as “an incorrect behavior, a distortion of the course of events, and a source of astonishment.”

It was the first Iranian attack inside Iraq since March, when the Revolutionary Guard claimed a missile strike on an empty villa in Irbil owned by a Kurdish oil tycoon, who was reportedly targeted for being involved in energy talks with Israel.

“The constant Iranian message in all of these attacks, starting from last year’s … is we can harm you, and America cannot protect you,” said Osman. “And the Kurdish authorities are only left with condemnation.”

Erin Cunningham in Washington contributed to this report.

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