The Revolutionary Guards will carry on operations against Kurdish rebels in northwest Iran along the Iraqi border despite strains with Iraq, a commander of the elite force said on Wednesday.
He also said Tehran was prepared to finance the building of border security posts in northern Iraq to be manned by Iraqi forces.
“We will pursue the counter-revolutionaries to secure our borders, for the terrorists not to infiltrate and harm our people,” an operations commander, Colonel Hamid Ahmadi, told foreign media in Tehran.
In mid-July, the Guards launched a major offensive against Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) bases on the Iraqi border, where PJAK rebels operate out the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
“We do not have any issue with the Kurdish people in northern Iraq … We have the best of relations with Iraq’s central government and we have good relations with the Kurdish regional government,” he said.
“Around 150 of our companies are involved in business there. We have not set our sights on their soil,” Ahmadi added.
“We have not set foot on Iraqi soil and our operations are focused on the frontier itself. But if we see a pocket of three to four terrorists infiltrating the borders, we will confront them.”
Ahmadi said Tehran was prepared to set up border posts in northern Iraq to be manned by Iraqi central government forces or Iraqi Kurdish forces.
“We are even ready to pay the costs and build border posts in Iraqi Kurdistan so they can man it with their forces … anywhere they want,” the commander said.
He said the Guards were making the PJAK pay a heavy price.
“We have around 50 people dead on their side who have been identified. Some of them were Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish,” Ahmadi said, while “three Guards were martyred in a major operation in Jasusan Heights” inside Iran in mid-July.
In early August, the force acknowledged having lost eight men in fighting.
He denied charges that villages were being shelled. “We do not shell villages at all. We shell terrorist hideouts accurately. Even if there is a terrorist presence near a village, we do not shell it,” he said.
Kurdish local officials and an NGO in early August reported that more than 200 Iraqi Kurdish families had been forced from their homes by weeks of Iranian shelling of separatist rebel bases in northern Iraq.
And Iraq’s parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi, called for “the immediate cessation of Iranian shelling of Iraqi territory, which is considered a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
In July, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari demanded that Iran stop the shelling, which started on July 16, and warned that it was damaging ties between the two neighbours.