Unidentified gunmen today killed and injured several Iranian border guards in Iran’s restive West Azerbaijan Province near the Turkish border, the Iranian media reported. The armed clash between Iranian security forces and militants occurred in the border town of Maku. While the Iranian media have yet to release details of the incident, the gunmen appear to have crossed the border from Turkey into Iran. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, who is currently in Moscow, to express condolences and pledge investigation into the matter. According to Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi, Cavusoglu has said that P.K.K. (Kurdistan Workers' Party) militants were behind the incident.
Comment: Armed groups have lately intensified attacks against Iranian security forces in Iran’s northwest, a predominantly Kurdish region. In early November, the Iranian media reported that gunmen killed at least eight Iranian border guards in the Chaldoran, a West Azerbaijan district which has about 45,000 population and is located near Iran’s border with Turkey. The Chaldoran region has seen an uptick in militant attacks against Iranian security forces in recent months. In October, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) announced that its forces “dismantled a terrorist team” in Chaldoran. According to a statement released by the public relations department of I.R.G.C.’s Hamze Sayyid al-Shohada Base, four “terrorists’ were killed in armed clashes between I.R.G.C. forces and the militants. The statement did not reveal the group’s identity, but alleged that it was “affiliated with the Global Arrogance” – a term Iranian officials often use for the United States and its allies. The statement also claimed that the group had infiltrated into West Azerbaijan [most likely from Turkey] and killed two residents. The I.R.G.C. forces seized weapons, communication equipment and ammunition from the terrorists, the statement added.
And in August, the I.R.G.C. said it dismantled another “terrorist group” in West Azerbaijan and claimed the group had sought to enter Iran to carry out attacks. Iran and Turkey have recently signed agreements to boost border security and counterterrorism cooperation.
There has been an upsurge of attacks by armed groups against Iranian security forces recently, particularly in West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces in the northwest and Sistan and Baluchestan in the southeast. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said recently that the country’s security forces had disbanded nearly 100 “terrorist groups” across the country. “Highly serious measures have been taken in the Southern, Southeastern and Western parts of Iran and nearly 100 teams have been confronted," the deputy Iranian intelligence minister said.
In the northwest, the P.D.K.I. has resumed armed resistance against the Iranian regime. Mustafa Hijri, P.D.K.I.’s secretary general, said in January that their resistance was not “just for the Kurds in Iran’s Kurdistan, but it is a struggle against the Islamic Republic for all of Iran.” P.D.K.I. militants based in the Iraqi Kurdistan region have repeatedly crossed the border and clashed with the I.R.G.C. in the Iranian province of Kurdistan.
Security situation in Iran’s southeast is also tense and volatile. With a sizable yet largely marginalized Sunni population, the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan can be a breeding ground for local militant and separatist movements as well regional and international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Sunni Baluchs, who constitute a plurality of the population in the province, have long suffered state-sanctioned discrimination, economic marginalization, cultural repression, disproportionate executions, torture, detention without trials and extra-judicial killings. Sistan and Baluchestan also borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Islamic State has gained a foothold recently.
Moreover, ISIS has also gained a foothold in Iran and has been able to recruit among disgruntled Iranian Sunnis across the country.