Tusenvis av iranske revolusjonsgardister står oppmarsjert mot grensen til kurdisk Nord-Irak og skyter med artilleri mot landsbyene på den andre siden av grensen. De ønsker å knuse PJAK, den kurdiske opprørsbevegelsen i iransk Kurdistan.

PJAK virker å operere som PKK på tyrkisk territorium. De trekker seg tilbake til Irak når det passer. Iran har mindre tålmodighet og hensyn å ta enn Tyrkia, og bomber. Det er høyt spill.

Eller kan Teheran ønske å ødelegge det eneste stabile og fremgangsrike området i Irak? Et blomstrende, fritt Kurdistan er en trussel både mot Iran og Tyrkia, som begge har store kurdiske befolkninger. Et selvstendig Kurdistan virker som en magnet på disse befolkningene. Samtidig vil krig i Nord-Irak være et nederlag for USA.

Men det er ikke USA som bevæpner PJAK-geriljaen, skriver Guardians Michael Howard fra Nord-Irak. Han har selv vært oppe i fjellene og snakket med geriljaen.

Iraqi Kurdish officials expressed deepening concern yesterday at an upsurge in fierce clashes between Kurdish guerrillas and Iranian forces in the remote border area of north-east Iraq, where Tehran has recently deployed thousands of Revolutionary Guards.

Jabar Yawar, a deputy minister in the Kurdistan regional government, said four days of intermittent shelling by Iranian forces had hit mountain villages high up on the Iraqi side of the border, wounding two women, destroying livestock and property, and displacing about 1,000 people from their homes. Mr Yawer said there had also been intense fighting on the Iraqi border between Iranian forces and guerrillas of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), an armed Iranian Kurdish group that is stepping up its campaign for Kurdish rights against the theocratic regime in Tehran.

On Saturday the Iranian news agency Mehr said an Iranian army helicopter which crashed killing six Republican Guard members had been engaged in a military operation against PJAK. Iranian officials said the helicopter had crashed into the side of a mountain during bad weather in northern Iraq. PJAK sources said the helicopter had been destroyed after it attempted to land in a clearing mined by guerrillas. The PJAK sources claimed its guerrillas had also killed at least five other Iranian soldiers, and a local pro-regime chief, Hussein Bapir.

«If this escalates it could pose a real threat to the Kurdistan region, which is Iraq’s most stable area,» said Mr Yawar, who said he expected the Iraqi government and US officials in Iraq to make a formal protest to Tehran about the «blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty»

Analysts believe PJAK is the fastest growing armed resistance group in Iran. As well as the 3,000 or so members under arms in the mountains, it also claims tens of thousands of followers in secret cells in Iranian Kurdistan. Its campaigning on women’s rights has struck a chord with young Iranian Kurdish women. The group says 45% of its fighters are female. Iranian authorities regard the group as a terrorist outfit being sponsored and armed by the US to increase pressure on Iran.

On a recent visit to PJAK camps in the Qandil mountains the Guardian saw no evidence of American weaponry. The majority of its fighters toted Soviet-era Kalashnikovs. In an interview Biryar Gabar, a member of the leadership committee, said the group had no relations with the Americans, but was «open to any group that shares our ideals of a free federal democratic and secular Iran.»

Kurds flee homes as Iran shells villages in Iraq