Activists: Iranian forces unleash heavy fire on protesters ~ Washington


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iranian security forces fired heavy gunfire at protesters in a Kurdish town in the west of the country on Monday, killing at least five during an anti-government protest that erupted at the funeral of two people killed the day before , activists said .

Videos circulating online show dozens of protesters taking cover in alleyways as heavy gunfire rang through the streets. Some show people lying motionless and bleeding in the street, while others show residents gathering at a local hospital to donate blood.

Iran has been rocked by anti-government protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman, who died in the custody of the country’s vice squad on September 16 in the capital Tehran. The protests, initially centered in the western Kurdish region of Iran where Amini came from, have spread across the country and escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics.

Hengaw, a Kurdish human rights group, said Iranian security forces opened heavy gunfire on protesters in the town of Javanrud, where a funeral was being held for two protesters killed the day before. It cited witnesses who said Iranian forces used heavy machine guns.

Seven people were killed Monday, according to Hengaw, while another group, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, put the number at five. The latter group said many of the wounded were being treated in homes over fears they could be arrested from hospitals, making it difficult to confirm the toll. Several were said to have been shot in the head or chest.

Iranian authorities are severely restricting media coverage of the protests and have regularly blocked internet access, making it difficult to confirm details of the unrest.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported protests in Javanrud on Sunday night and said security forces had been fired with live ammunition. Two people were said to have been killed and four injured.

Later Monday, state television interviewed a local security official, Mohammad Pourhashemi, who blamed the shooting in Javanrud on local gunmen, whom he said exchanged fire with security forces. The report did not provide any further details.

Funerals have often been the scene of renewed protests in recent weeks, including during the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the clergy to power. The recent demonstrations mark the greatest challenge to the theocracy in over a decade.

At least 426 people have been killed and more than 17,400 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the unrest. At least 55 members of the security forces are said to have been killed.

Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, an MP for the Kurdish city of Mahabad, told Etemad daily that 11 people have been killed in protests in the city since late October, many of them in recent days. He said some members of the security forces fired on homes and businesses on Saturday, and he urged authorities to be more gentle.

The unrest cast a shadow over Monday’s World Cup, where the Iran national team faced England. Iran’s players did not sing along with their national anthem and some fans chanted Amini’s name in the 22nd minute of the game.

The violence has also spread across the border into neighboring Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. Iran has blamed some of its domestic unrest on Iraqi-based Kurdish groups, targeting them with missile and drone strikes.

Iran said Monday its latest attacks were necessary to protect the country’s borders, while Kurdish officials condemned the attacks as unprovoked aggression. The Iraqi central government, which is dominated by Iranian parties, also condemned the attacks.

A strike late Sunday killed a member of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party, said Mohammed Nazif Qaderi, a senior official with the Kurdish-Iranian group who lives in exile in Iraq.

The group said Iranian surface-to-surface missiles and drones hit their bases and adjacent refugee camps in Koya and Jejnikan. The group also claimed that the strikes hit a hospital in Koya.

The Iranian attacks follow a visit to Baghdad last week by Esmail Ghaani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds force. During the visit, Ghaani threatened Iraq with a military ground operation in the north of the country if the Iraqi army did not fortify the border.

Some Kurdish groups have been involved in low-intensity conflict with Tehran since the 1979 revolution. Iran accuses them of inciting protests in Iran and smuggling weapons into the country, allegations the Kurdish groups have denied. Iran has not provided any evidence to support the claims.

On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told reporters that Iran acted to “protect its borders and the security of its citizens on the basis of its legal rights.” He claimed that the Baghdad government and the Irbil-based administration of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region had failed to implement alleged commitments to prevent threats to Iran from Iraqi territories.

The government of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq condemned the attacks as “a gross violation of international law and neighborly relations”.

Qaderi told The Associated Press Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq support the protests in Iran, which he described as a reaction to “the policies of this regime” which he says oppresses its people. He denied that his group sent fighters or weapons to Iran.

He said his group removed fighters from the border so as not to give Iran an “excuse” for further attacks. He urged the international community to prevent further Iranian aggression.

The United States condemned the recent Iranian attacks. “Such indiscriminate and illegal attacks endanger civilians, violate Iraqi sovereignty and endanger the hard-won security and stability of Iraq and the Middle East,” Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, who heads U.S. Central Command, said in a statement.

Sunday’s Iranian attacks in northern Iraq come a day after Turkey launched deadly airstrikes over northern regions of Syria and Iraq, targeting Kurdish groups Ankara blames for last week’s Istanbul bombing.

On Monday, Turkish officials said suspected Kurdish militants in Syria fired rockets at the border town of Karkamis in Turkey, killing two people, including a teacher and a 5-year-old boy.