Iran’s Push to Implement the Border Security Deal With Iraq


Deadly anti-government protests last year in Iran in its restive Kurdistan Province, followed by Iranian airstrikes targeting armed Kurdish strongholds inside Iraq, triggered a series of talks recently between Tehran and Baghdad. In recent months, the negotiations between Iran and Iraq picked up pace,  as did the additional talks held between Tehran and the  Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to  craft a new border security agreement.

This new deal, signed in March of this year, is mostly but not entirely fully implemented. It is, for example, expected to halt Iranian bombardments of several positions where Kurdish militants operate inside Iraq. But previously, Iran threatened that without the prompt implementation of the deal, it would turn to  Plan B to clean up the borders with Iraq  that would involve the resumption of strikes on Kurdish targets.

Photo: Mizan Online/ Iman Fatehi .

Iran’s periodic launching of airstrikes targeting Iranian-Kurdish separatists operating inside Iraq halted briefly once the talks to  craft the deal with Iraq began.  The talks involved exploring ways to end cross-border movements by the separatist Kurdish groups. Tehran said the groups were “terror outfits,” and its President Ebrahim Raisi stressed that he would not tolerate them operating along Iranian borders any longer. One idea that picked up in the talks was to disarm and then move Kurdish separatists to refugee camps inside Iraq, where they would be closely monitored by Iraqi security guards.

On March 19, when Baghdad and Tehran signed  the security deal to tighten the monitoring of their joint borders, they decided to control all armed Kurdish dissident groups  operating along Iraq’s frontier Kurdish region with Iran. Iraq pledged then that it would prevent armed Kurdish groups from using  Iraqi territory to launch cross-border attacks on Iran, but it failed to fully disarm all groups by August of this year, which led to renewed negotiations for a stronger border deal with Iran.

A major challenge  is that competing actors in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)  may have worked with  Kurdish separatists to  threaten Iranian security, according to Iranian news sources. For example,  frequent disagreements arise  between PUK forces helping Iran, and the pro-US  Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) based in Erbil. On September 17, Baghdad finally launched military operations to remove Kurdish separatists from the borders with Iran, through coordinated efforts with the KRG. Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani demanded the complete removal of the separatists before September 19. Iran’s Ministry of Defense warned that the deadline would not be extended.

But by September 19, Iran was still issuing a non-renewable month-long ultimatum to resume airstrikes into Iraq and demanding answers as to why Baghdad had failed to monitor the borders despite its promises.  In a series of subsequent meetings with  Baghdad and the KRG, Tehran received assurances that  the Kurdish armed groups would be relocated and that their attempts to launch military operations against Iranian interests would be foiled. Baghdad vowed again to disarm Kurdish-Iranian separatist groups.

Within days, renewed steps were taken to clean up all military bases inside Iraq operated by the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) (see Table 1). The next step involved the disarming of these groups. As Iran built up its forces along the borders with the KRG, by October, it was calling for a “roadmap” to fully expel and disarm separatist Kurdish groups. By then, a group of Kurdish militants had relocated to camps inside Iraq but far away from the borders with Iran. Iran’s Supreme National Security Council meanwhile vowed that the country would resume drone and artillery shelling against Kurdish positions in Iraq unless the relocation process was fully enforced.

Table1: List of Active Anti-Iranian Kurdish Groups in Northern Iraq

Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI)
Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KPIK)
Komala Organization of the Iranian Communist Party (KOICP)
Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK)
Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK)

 Data source: Andalou Agency.

Iran continues to stress that Iraq needs to do more to advance the bilateral security pact. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, who is backed by a coalition of pro-Iranian parties inside Iraq, is expected to see this new deal through, which  includes the deployment of border guards to prevent Kurdish separatists  from breaching Iranian security.  Still, Tehran says that Baghdad must eliminate all sources of insecurity that are caused by the separatists, and is exploring ways to implement the deal, including  building more border posts inside Iraq, and a possible new border agreement between Iraq and Turkey, a country which is also trying to control separatist Kurdish groups along its borders.

Editorial Team