New US policy reason for PJAK's renewed attacks against Iran

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy
Published 30.05.2017 00:00

An attack on Saturday targeting Iranian border guards carried out by the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), the PKK's Iranian offshoot, may be a repercussion of the U.S.'s new policy in the region designed to turn the Gulf countries against Iran, experts said.

The PJAK's attack on Iranian soldiers on the Turkish-Iranian border killed two soldiers and wounded seven others. The Fars News Agency reported on Sunday that Iranian border guard Cdr. Qassem Rezayee pointed the blame at Turkey for not being able to prevent the attack.

Though the PJAK has long been inactive in the region, the renewed attacks targeting Iranian security could have correlations with the new U.S. policies in the region under the Donald Trump administration, according to experts on the issue. Çetiner Çetin, an Ankara-based journalist focusing on the developments in the region, said that Washington forced the PKK to make a choice between the U.S. and Iran."The PJAK ended its activities during the Barak Obama administration, as he forged an alliance with Iran. With Trump in office, the U.S. has forced the PKK to make a choice," Çetin asserted. On the other hand, Ahmet Uysal, the head of the Ankara-based think tank the Center for Iranian Studies, drew attention to Trump's recent meetings with Gulf countries and the forging of an alliance against Iran in the region. Uysal said that the attack may be related to the U.S.'s rapprochement with Gulf countries against Iran.

Rezayee accused Turkey of not taking the necessary preventive measures against the PJAK, saying that Tehran "considers Turkey responsible [for the attack], and the country should be held accountable for this act."

Even though Iran blamed Turkey for the PKK-affiliated PJAK attack, it has been interpreted as an irrational move due to Iran's collaborations with the PKK's Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), on the ground in Syria. Also, Iran has so far refused to join forces to address the PKK threat along the Turkey-Iran border.

However, Uysal said Tehran's words do not correspond with its actions. "It is not clear if this is an official stance as it came from a low-level military statement. If it is true, then blaming Turkey for the PJAK attack is not sensible," he said, adding: "Whenever the Turkish military conducts operations against the PKK in the region, [militants of the PKK] flee to Iran. It is a porous region. The meaning of such a reaction from Iran, which works with the Bashar Assad regime and the PKK's offshoot the PYD in Syria, would only be to distract the public's attention."

Çetin said the area where the attack took place is tough to keep under control. Stressing that the area lies between the Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi borders, Çetin stressed that Turkey is not responsible for the attack. "Iran has been allowing PKK militants to pass through. Tehran aims to send a message to the U.S. by blaming Turkey," Çetin said, adding that Tehran is testing Ankara's reactions to the issue.Commenting on Iran's blaming of Turkey for aiding and abetting the PKK by not controlling the borders, Uysal said: "Turkey's support of the PKK in this regard is not even in question. Iran previously turned a blind eye to the PKK, thinking that it only targets Turkey. Tehran has shut its eyes to the PKK's earlier attacks."

Recently, Ankara announced that it would erect a wall along the Turkish-Iranian border. Tehran objected to that, as well. Drawing attention to Tehran's changeable stance toward the issue, Uysal said: "Iran has an inconsistent attitude on another issue. Tehran opposes the building of a wall along the border to prevent terrorist and smuggling activities. At the same time, it objects to collaborating with Turkey against the PKK threat."

The PJAK, which is associated with the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), the umbrella organization for the armed terrorist organizations the PKK and PYD, ended all armed operations unilaterally and had declared a cease-fire in 2011.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan stated in an interview with the Iraqi television network Zelal in 2013 that "I founded the PYD as I did the PJAK."

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