What began as a calm Wednesday morning soon turned into a terrifying ordeal in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, when missiles rained down across the region.
The attack started in the mid-morning of September 23, with drones still circling endlessly as night fell. By the time it was over — at least for a night’s reprieve — the death toll stood at 18, including a pregnant woman whose baby miraculously survived.
The Kurdistan Region has been under endless attack — most often from Turkey. However, Wednesday’s bloodbath was the handiwork of the battered Islamic Republic of Iran, the theocratic entity embroiled in a mass, popular uprising for nearly two weeks.
Iran proclaims itself to be vehemently against oppression and the staunchest defender of the Palestinian people. Yet, Wednesday’s scenes could have been from Gaza. The rationale behind Iran’s attacks was even couched in the same language the Israeli state always uses — that of fighting “terrorism”.
In this case, though, the “terrorists” were not Palestinian, but Kurdish. It is no coincidence that the wave of protests that hit Iran has been centered on the Kurdistan province and other largely Kurdish-inhabited areas.
The death of Mahsa Amini on September 16 is a case in point about the Kurds’ horrific fate at the hands of the Iranian state. Amini was certainly killed for being a woman, the victim of Iran’s “morality police” that enforces the state’s patriarchal rule. She very well may have also been a target for being a Kurd. Even the way she is known globally as “Mahsa” exemplifies the national oppression in Iran. Her real name is Jhina, but that name was not approved by the chauvinist Iranian authorities, so she was officially registered as Mahsa.
In the days leading up to the bombardment in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq — a blatant violation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty — Jhina’s cousin Erfan Mortazee began to speak out about her fate. His appearance made it clear he was no passive bystander. Dressed in military fatigues, Erfan was not speaking from inside Iran, but from Iraq, a member of the Komala Kurdistan Organization of the Communist Party of Iran. Like many, the heinous conditions of life for Kurds in Iran had forced him to pick up a gun and become a Peshmerga fighter for his nation’s liberation.
Komala is just one of several Kurdish groups exiled in northern Iraq that came under attack on Wednesday morning. The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan reported that its primary base was all but levelled. I found the images distressing, given that I visited the camp last year. The camp housed Peshmerga fighters as well as families who had found refuge and solace across the border. Here they could breathe freer as Kurds, as well as Iranians.
Kawsar Fattahi, a member of Komala’s Central Committee, told me that about 10 suicide drones targeted the camp starting at around 10.15 in the morning, but this wasn’t the first attack in recent days. “It has been happening for a few days already. They attacked the border area of Sidakan because our Peshmergas are there. This is related to Amini’s death because the regime is under great pressure. They need to make people scared and for the world to forget the protests.”
Fattahi said Iran has wanted to attack Komala for some time, on the pretext that the group is trying to launch terrorist attacks inside Iran. Four of its members were arrested in late July. In typical Islamic Republic fashion, they were painted as Israeli Mossad agents in an attempt to brandish them as foreign meddlers.
“After they made this claim, Iran already said it would attack our camps," Fattahi said. "We were ready for it because this is not the first time,”
For other Iranian Kurdish groups in northern Iraq, this also wasn’t the first time that missiles rained down on them. The oldest of the exiled parties, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), reported scenes of chaos and panic at their headquarters in the town of Koya on Wednesday. It was here that one of its pregnant Peshmerga members succumbed to her injuries, but her baby survived.
Iran launched missiles against the camp and an adjacent refugee centre in September 2018, killing 18 people and injuring at least 50. Like Komala, many had also carved out some semblance of a relatively free life there, creating schools and a genuine sense of community.
Attacks also targeted the bases of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) and the Party for a Free Life (PJAK), which is associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a more than 40-year insurgency against the Turkish state. Many of these organisations cooperate with each other, while others have less cordial relations. According to the Iranian state, what unites them as the enemy is their Kurdishness.
Iran’s deadly attacks may appear to show strength, but it may be more apt to see them in terms of desperation. It is no coincidence that it’s suffering Kurdish masses — on either side of the border — who are viewed by the clerical regime the greatest threat to its continued existence. Rebellion has always been etched into the mountains of these lands.
For those such as Fattahi, the fight is against the double oppression that took Jhina Amini’s life — that of being a Kurd and a woman. Even after a day of destruction, Fattahi ended our conversation on an optimistic note, saying bluntly and confidently: “The end of the regime is near”.
[Marcel Cartier is a critically acclaimed hip-hop artist, journalist and author, whose work has appeared in the Morning Star, Green Left, TeleSUR, and Kurdish Question. His book Serkeftin: A Narrative of the Rojava Revolution (2019) was one of the first major accounts in English of the structures set up in northern Syria by the Kurdish forces. This article was updated on October 1 to update the death toll, which is still rising.]