Mark March 21 on your calendar. Six armed Kurdish parties in Iraq have united ahead of expected protests in Iran on that date. Both the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and an Iranian Kurdish militia have held military exercises in preparation for expected conflict.
The six groups are preparing for protests in the Kurdish areas of Iran to celebrate the Kurdish New Year, Newroz, on March 21. Holiday events become the scene of political protests, Iranian regime repression and even clashes.
But the Kurdish alliance says this time will be different because they are unified, preparing in advance and agreed to jointly collect and share intelligence in January for a common defense against the Iranian regime.
“There always have been activities in Kurdistan for celebrating Newroz and these activities always are opportunities for people to express their resistance against the fact that they have been denied of their basic rights.
“Using symbols, songs and gatherings, youth in Newroz have always shown their anger and resentment toward the lasting oppression of Kurds in Iran,” explained the U.S. representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI).
The PDKI recently held a military exercise near the border with Iran in preparation for a “full guerilla fight,” in the words of one of its officials. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps likewise held a military exercise in the Kurdish-majority province of Kermanshah, where protests and clashes are expected.
PDKI has about 2,000 fighters in the border area between the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region and Iran. It declared the end of a 20-year ceasefire with Iran last year and openly said it was sending its Peshmerga fighters into Iranian Kurdistan, but would not fire the first shot.
The Kurdish Rudaw newspaper describes PDKI as “historically considered the most formidable Kurdish military organization opposing the Islamic Republic in Tehran.”
Its leader, Mustafa Hijri, said in a speech in Europe in October 2016 that his group was not fighting just for Iranian Kurds, but for the replacement of the current theocratic Iranian regime with a secular democracy for all. He asked the “progressive and democratic forces of the world” to support the PDKI and other Iranians seeking to topple the government.
A Shiite political bloc within the Iraqi parliament called on the Iraqi government to kick out the Kurdish forces that fight the Iranian regime in January. The Kurdish parties attributed the move to Iranian influence, pointing out that it came after two bombings targeted the office of the PDKI in Koye, Iraq in December. Seven people died. The party blamed Iran for the attack.
Prior to the attack on the PDKI, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei accused Saudi Arabia of arming Kurdish opposition forces through its consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan. Khamenei demanded that the Kurdish Regional Government stop all opposition activity and close the Saudi consulate, neither of which happened.
The other Iraqi Kurdish parties in the alliance are the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), Khabat and three groups all bearing the name of Komala.
Another group that is likely to be active in the confrontation with Iran but is not part of the six-party alliance is the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK). I met their leader Hossein Yazdanpanah in January in Iraq at one of his camps near the battlefield with ISIS.
Kurds are an oppressed minority in Iran, representing about 10 percent of the population (between 8 and 10 million people). According to the U.N., almost half of the political prisoners in Iran are Kurdish and about one-fifth of the executed prisoners last year were Kurdish.
There was significant repression last year resulting in bloody clashes between the PDKI and other Kurdish militants on one side and the Iranian regime on the other. It received almost no attention from the West, a rather unsurprising development considering the U.S. turned away from Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution that could have positively changed the world.
If the Iranian Kurdish opposition in Iraq has its way, then the U.S. will have another opportunity to support the Iranian people. In our meetings with Iranian Kurds in Iraq, we were struck by how much hope they invested in the hope that, despite the U.S.’ mistakes and overlooking of their cause, the U.S. would eventually come around and support them—not only because it is in the U.S.” interest, but because America is a good country with good people.
America and the West more broadly should not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Let’s hope that when the Kurds rise up against the Iranian regime on March 21, they will be joined by a chorus of freedom-loving voices eager to see them triumph over Islamist tyranny.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak please contact us.