Iran: A Strong Stance Against Separatists Spells Trouble for Kurds
By: Stratfor.comMarch 2, 2007
Summary
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is prepared to pursue its enemies across Iran's borders, IRGC commander-in-chief Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi said Feb. 28. The general's statement that his forces will chase separatist groups into neighboring countries comes at a time of increased internal instability in Iran, in line with the U.S. campaign to destabilize the clerical regime. Kurdish ambitions in Iraq are likely to be affected as Iran and Turkey work together to quell the common threat they face from Kurdish rebel groups.

Analysis
Commander-in-chief of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, said Feb. 28 that the United States and Israel are directly funding armed anti-Iranian groups in the Islamic republic, and that the IRGC "is prepared to chase and disband the enemies even beyond Iran's borders in a bid to defend the country."

Safavi's warnings come after several weeks of growing security threats from Iran's ethnic minority groups, which make up nearly half of its population of 80 million. The IRGC is in the midst of a crackdown to contain these groups; in the latest offensive, announced Feb. 28, the IRGC said it killed 17 rebels in the heavily Kurdish-populated West Azerbaijan province. This offensive was prompted by a Feb. 24 Iranian military helicopter crash near the Turkish border, which killed 14 Iranian soldiers. The Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), a group linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, claimed it shot down the helicopter with an SA-7, a portable surface-to-air missile that has found its way into the hands of several Iraqi insurgent groups.

While the Kurdish groups are keeping the IRGC busy in the northwest, Baloch rebel groups in the southwest province of Sistan-Balochistan, along the Iranian, Pakistani and Afghan border, have staged a number of attacks in recent weeks against Iranian security forces. Iran also faces a threat in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, on the Iranian-Iraqi border, where Arab rebel groups have carried out several bombings over the past two years.

Iran says these uprisings are all part of a U.S.-British-Israeli campaign to undermine its clerical regime. Safavi said that Washington is projecting its problems into Iran "now that their policies have ended in failure in Afghanistan and Iraq." To further its claim that a foreign hand is involved in the recent attacks, Tehran recently released a number of photographs of ammunition boxes with large "USA" labels circled. The photographs quite obviously were doctored as part of an Iranian propaganda campaign constructed as a lever to use against the United States and the West in negotiations over Iraq. That said, it is not hard to believe Western intelligence agencies might be supporting these armed rebellions in Iran.

The United States has much to gain by sparking internal frictions in Iran. While Washington is not interested in a direct military confrontation with Tehran, it would very much like to show the Iranian government that it can dish out what it is receiving in Iraq. The larger aim of this covert campaign would be to use Iran's oppressed minorities to destabilize the Islamic republic along its restive borders in order to make it too costly for Iran to remain the primary obstruction to a U.S. exit strategy for Iraq.

In reference to the attacks in Sistan-Balochistan province, in a sermon March 2, Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami accused Pakistan of "losing its neighborly manners" by working with the United States to instigate the Baloch uprisings. Pakistan, which faces its own Baloch rebel threat, is unlikely to be providing direct support to the Baloch minority in Iran. But, given its complex relationship with the United States in combating al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region, Islamabad likely has worked out a deal in which it receives some slack in exchange for turning a blind eye to U.S. operations against Iran along the border.

Iran has expressed its alarm over the recent rebel activity and has reportedly spent the past month building a 10-foot-high fence along the Iranian-Pakistani border to prevent illegal border crossings. The IRGC has even issued a direct threat to pursue members of PJAK into neighboring Iraq, using the "practical measures that had been taken during Saddam's reign" to contain the Kurdish uprisings.

The U.S. interest in destabilizing Iran gives the PJAK a useful tool to further its resistance campaign against Iran: a relatively unobstructed base of operations in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, made it clear in a September 2006 interview with National Public Radio that Iraq can "make trouble" for both Iran and Turkey should either country attempt to interfere in the affairs of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). (His comments followed a Kurdish rebel attack in Maku, Iran, that destroyed nearly 75 yards of an Iranian-Turkish gas pipeline.)

Though the Iraqi Kurds can see the usefulness of highlighting their links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iran to help achieve their goal of annexing the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a significant uptick in Kurdish rebel attacks in Iraq's neighboring countries could complicate things. Iran and Turkey have cooperated before to counter Kurdish operations through cross-border military operations. The last thing the KRG wants is a direct military confrontation with either Iran or Turkey while the Kirkuk referendum issue is heating up.

During a March 1 phone conversation, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad vowed to work together to maintain Iraq's territorial integrity. It does not take much of an imagination to guess what else Ankara and Tehran might be planning in light of these recent attacks.

Stratfor is a private intelligence company delivering in-depth analysis, assessments and forecasts on global geopolitical, economic, security and public policy issues. A variety of subscription-based access, free intelligence reports and confidential consulting are available for individuals and corporations.

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