TEHRAN/BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON: A senior officer of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards was among six soldiers killed in clashes with Kurdish rebels on the border with Iraq, Fars news agency reported Friday.
“General Assemi of the Qom branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed along with five of his comrades in clashes with terrorist rebels of the PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) in the Sardasht area,” the agency said, giving no further details.
Iranian troops launched a major offensive Saturday against PJAK rebels operating out of rear-bases in neighboring Iraq.
The autonomous regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan demanded Tuesday that Iran respect the border after a Guards commander said Iranian forces had taken “full control” of three PJAK camps inside Iraq.
In Tehran, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour demanded Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authorities take steps to prevent the PJAK rebels from attacking Iran from Iraqi territory.
The fighting had already left at least two Guards – a colonel and a captain – killed and three wounded, according to security officials in Tehran. PJAK has said two of its fighters were killed and four wounded.
Iranian forces have repeatedly shelled border districts of Iraq’s Kurdish region, targeting PJAK bases.
In separate bomb and gun attacks Friday in Baghdad, Baqouba and Kirkuk five Iraqi policemen were killed and 17 people were wounded.
In Baghdad’s western Mansur district, a roadside bomb killed two policemen, including a captain, an Interior Ministry official said. Eight people were also wounded, among them four policemen, he said.
“The explosion happened when the police went to check on an earlier explosion outside a liquor shop which had inflicted no casualties,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Liquor stores are frequent targets of insurgents, attacked because they are usually owned by Christians, and because drinking alcohol is forbidden by Islam.
In the central city of Baqouba, gunmen sprayed policemen guarding the compound of a Turkish company involved in a garbage collection project, killing three police and wounding one, a security official said.
June was the deadliest month in Iraq so far this year with 271 people killed in attacks including 155 civilians, 77 policemen and 39 soldiers, according to a government count.
A four-star general nominated to be the next army chief told Congress Thursday that the U.S. should provide whatever defensive aid Iraq believes it needs beyond 2011, particularly in light of what he called stepped-up Iranian efforts to pressure the U.S. to leave Iraq.
“I think it’s important that we provide them the support they think is necessary,” Gen. Ray Odierno told his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Odierno served three tours as a commander in Iraq.
When pressed on the question of extending the U.S. military presence, Odierno said decisions would not be based solely on Iraq’s judgment about what it needs.