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The Farda Briefing: Iran Targets Opposition Kurdish Groups Abroad To Divert Attention From Protests At Home

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani met met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on November 29.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani met met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on November 29.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iran has carried out several missile and drone strikes on the bases of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq in recent months. Tehran has labeled the exiled groups as "terrorist" and "separatist" organizations. Iranian officials have accused the groups of launching cross-border attacks against government forces. Tehran has even gone as far as threatening to invade Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, where the groups are based. At least 17 people have been killed in the Iranian strikes since September.

Why It Matters: Iran's recent attacks on the Kurdish groups have coincided with the antiestablishment demonstrations that have rocked the country since mid-September. Tehran has accused the groups of stoking unrest in Iran's western Kurdistan region, which has been the epicenter of the nationwide protests and the government's deadly crackdown. The rallies were triggered by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who died shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the country's hijab law.

Observers say Tehran's attacks on the Kurdish groups are mainly designed to divert attention away from the demonstrations at home. The Kurdish groups have denied allegations of inciting the protests and said they are being used by Tehran as a scapegoat.

Khaled Azizi, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, one of the exiled groups, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the "main reason for the attacks by the Islamic republic on our bases and the violent crackdown on people's peaceful protests is that Tehran faces a "dead end" in quelling the demonstrations. He said Tehran sees violence as the "only solution."

What's Next: Iran has heaped pressure on Iraq to clamp down on the Kurdish groups. In a move welcomed by Tehran, Baghdad announced last week that it would deploy federal forces to fortify the border with Iran. Iraqi Kurdish fighters had previously guarded the border.

Analyst Ali Sadrzadeh told Radio Farda that Baghdad wants to avoid giving Tehran any excuses to launch more attacks in Iraqi territory. During his November 29 trip to Tehran, the Iraqi president vowed that his government "is determined not to allow any group or party to use Iraqi territory to undermine and disrupt Iran's security."

It is unclear if Iraq's recent promises and actions will be enough to prevent further Iranian attacks.

Stories You Might Have Missed

• An Iranian dissident journalist who disappeared in Turkey in May is now in the custody of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), sources with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL. Mohammad Bagher Moradi was deported to Iran in early November after being kept in "illegal" detention in Turkey for five months, the Turkish lawyer representing his family said. On November 4, Moradi made a brief telephone call to his family and informed them that he was in Iran in the custody of the "intelligence bodies."

• Iran's judiciary on November 27 charged dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi with spreading "corruption on Earth," a serious offense that could result in a death sentence in the Islamic republic. Salehi, 32, gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. A U.S.-based rights group said on November 26 that Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk."

What We're Watching

A U.S. effort to remove Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women will be voted on on December 14, Reuters quoted diplomats as saying on November 28. Iran has just started a four-year term on the 45-member commission, which meets annually every March and aims to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. Washington said earlier this month that Iran has demonstrated through its "brutal crackdown on women and girls protesting peacefully for their rights" that it is unfit to serve on the commission.

Why It Matters: The move would mark a significant step in pressuring Iran over its brutal crackdown on the protests in which women have played a prominent role. It follows a decision by the UN Human Rights Council to form a fact-finding committee to investigate human rights violations in Iran. The decision was praised by rights activists as "a big step towards justice" for those killed in the government crackdown.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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