Fighting erupted Sunday between Iranian Kurdish insurgents and the Islamic republic's military forces near Iran's border with Kurdish Iraq.
At least two Iranian Kurdish rebels and one member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed during clashes along the border with Iraq, according to reports from Iraqi Kurdistan, citing officials on both sides.
The rebels are affiliated with the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, an outlaw group that has waged attacks on Turkey and Iran from the mountainous regions in Iraq. PJAK has ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which carried out an attack on Turkish soldiers Thursday that killed 13 and wounded seven others.
"Since midnight, heavy battles have been ongoing between PJAK and the Iranian army, resulting in injuries among elements of our group," rebel spokesman Sherzad Kamankar told Agence France-Presse on Sunday.
The border clash could portend renewed tensions between Iraq and Iran as the U.S. government prepares to fully end the military mission in Iraq by the end of the calendar year.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta confirmed that Iran's government had stepped up its weapons shipments to Shiite extremist groups, reprising a strategy Iran tried in 2007 and 2008 to drive the U.S. military out of Iraq.
Last week, Iran warned that it reserved the right to attack the bases of the PJAK in neighboring Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.
According to Mr. Kamankar, Iranian forces warned villagers living in areas along Iraq's side of the border to evacuate their homes within three days. But Kurdish government officials dismissed that report, according to Agence France-Presse.
Mr. Kamankar told Agence France-Presse that two rebels were killed and four were wounded, and that Iranian forces had suffered several casualties in the fighting near the Banjaween area of Iraqi Kurdistan's Sulaimaniyah province. Iran's official IRNA news agency said five PJAK members and a Revolutionary Guard Corps member were killed.
Iran and Turkey have restive Kurdish minorities, as did Iraq when Saddam Hussein was dictator. The U.S. invasion set up an Iraqi government where Kurds have much more power and an autonomous enclave. Both Tehran and Ankara have charged official connivance by Iraqi Kurds and have called northern Iraq an operating base for the rebels.
The Kurdistan regional government has cooperated with the Turkey against the PKK and does not accord that guerrilla group any official status or aid.
"Turkey and Iran now have a common enemy in Iraq and there are even rumors that the Turks breached the Iraqi border as well, though they are unconfirmed," a security consultant with extensive contacts in the Persian Gulf said.
The clash is indicative of complicated, multiplayer jockeying for influence in the new Iraq.
"This comes conveniently at a time when all Iran wants to do is provoke the U.S. to stay in Iraq, so they have the pretext of launching an all out insurgency through the Madhi Army and others to create a Shiite state in Iraq," the security consultant concluded.
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