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Iran Urges Iraqi Action On Kurdish Rebels

Kurdish security officers look at the damage to a roof following suspected Iranian shelling on Narmalas, close to the Iran-Iraq border.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has urged neighboring Iraq to "pay special attention" to armed groups operating in its border areas, a week after Baghdad condemned Iranian shelling of villages in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region.

Iraq said last week it had summoned Iran's ambassador to Baghdad and warned of "negative consequences" if such attacks continued.

Iran, whose forces often clash with guerrillas in its own Kurdish-populated areas close to the Iraqi border, has neither confirmed nor denied reports its forces had shelled targets inside Iraqi territory.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference that Iran respected and supported Iraq's territorial integrity.

Iran "expects that Iraqi officials pay special attention to movements of small groups which are officially known as terrorist groups even by Western governments," he said.

He appeared to be referring to the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which took up arms in 1984 for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey.

Both PJAK and the PKK are present in Iraq in the remote mountainous area close to the borders with Turkey and Iran.

Branded A Terrorist Group

Like neighboring Iraq and Turkey, Iran has a large Kurdish minority, mainly living in the country's northwest and west.

Iran sees PJAK, which seeks autonomy for Kurdish areas in Iran, as a terrorist group. The United States, Iran's arch foe, also branded PJAK as a terrorist organization in February.

Iraqi border police last week said Iran shelled a Kurdish village in a remote area of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region on May 4, causing damage to buildings but no casualties.

That followed Iranian shelling two days earlier of Kurdish rebel positions in another part of Iraqi Kurdistan. Helicopters were also used to fire from the Iranian side of the border.

The Turkish military conducted a major incursion last year against PKK militants in northern Iraq and Turkish warplanes have since carried out regular crossborder bombing raids against targets in the mountainous region.

Iran and Iraq fought a war in the 1980s, but since the ouster of Sunni Arab Saddam Hussein in 2003, relations between majority Shi'ite Muslim Iraq and Iran have improved.

"During the government of Saddam, this border was not safe because of the nature of Saddam's government," Qashqavi said.

"Now we expect that this border will become safe...on both sides," he said.