BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iran has continued to fire shells into northern Iraq despite protests from Baghdad, threatening relations between the two neighbours, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Thursday.
Iraqi Kurdish officials have complained about cross-border shelling since mid-August. Cross-border skirmishes also occasionally occur as Iraq’s neighbours Turkey and Iran battle Kurdish separatist rebels operating from bases in Iraq’s mountainous northeastern region of Kurdistan. “On the 28th of this month we summoned the Iranian ambassador and delivered a memorandum about shelling across the Iraqi border. We called at that time for Iran to immediately halt this operation because it is harming relations between the two countries,” Zebari told a news conference. “According to information we have received, the shelling is continuing today in Arbil (province). We again call on the Iranian government to immediately stop this military operation.”
Baghdad says hundreds of people have had to be evacuated from border villages as a result of Iranian shelling.
Kurdish PJAK guerrillas, who seek autonomy for Kurdish areas in Iran, are believed to shelter in the border area. “We have said many times that we will not allow any group to operate from our territory against neighbouring countries. But such cases are to be dealt with by discussion,” Zebari said, adding that Baghdad was willing to discuss the issue with Iran. “Yes, there is a group that opposes the government of Iran, the PJAK, which moves inside the Iraqi border. But this does not justify continuous daily shelling,” he said. “We are not so weak that everyone can interfere and fire shells across our border and we would not do anything about it.”
Iran has yet to comment officially regarding the shelling.
Baghdad and Tehran also have a tense relationship over U.S. accusations that Iran supports Shi’ite militants in Iraq with weapons and training, which Iran denies.
Iraq has had similar disputes in the past with Turkey over Kurdish separatist guerrillas hiding in its border region.