IRGC COMMANDER DESCRIBES IRANIAN VICTORY OVER KURDISH INSURGENTS
The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corp maintains that it was the Guards’ ability to confront Kurdish guerrillas on their own terms that led to an apparent defeat of the Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistane (Party of Free Life of Iranian Kurdistan – PJAK) after a three-month offensive.
Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jaffari suggested that PJAK had mistakenly believed that Iranian forces would use “classic warfare” tactics incapable of defeating guerrillas in the field: “The IRGC’s capability in both classic and asymmetric and guerrilla warfare surprised the PJAK terrorist group so much that they surrendered… Since the IRGC enjoys asymmetric and guerrilla warfare capability, in addition to its capability in classic wars, the PJAK group was encountered in its own method… and they realized that we have the ability to deploy troops and defeat everyone everywhere” (Fars News Agency, October 8; ISNA, October 8).
Following a series of border incursions by teams of PJAK fighters, Iran deployed a force of 5,000 IRGC troops and Border Guards to largely ethnic-Kurdish northwestern Iran, where they destroyed a PJAK base in the Jasosan Heights near Sar Dasht city in West Azerbaijan Province (Fars News Agency, September 26; see Terrorism Monitor, August 19). The offensive halted for a month following a Ramadan ceasefire negotiated by northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but operations resumed when it became clear PJAK had not used the break to withdraw to their bases in northern Iraq. The IRGC also claimed that PJAK had used the Ramadan ceasefire to dig tunnels in the Jasosan Heights along the border and to receive weapons and equipment supplied by the U.S. Consulate in Arbil (Fars News Agency, October 8).
After a number of battlefield setbacks that included the death of PJAK deputy commander Majid Kavian (a.k.a. Samakou Sarhaldan), PJAK unsuccessfully tried to have the ceasefire renewed, an impossibility so long as PJAK occupied Iranian territory (Sepah News, September 7). KRG president Masoud Barzani, wary of the possible implications of sending Kurds to secure the borders from other Kurds, instead urged both PJAK and their senior partner, the Parti Karkerani Kurdistan (Kurdistan Workers Party – PKK) to come to settlements with their respective Iranian and Turkish opponents (AFP, September 7).
By September 21, the IRGC was claiming to have killed over 180 PJAK fighters while driving the group out of northwestern Iran (Payvand Iran News, September 21). PJAK claimed to have killed 600 Iranian soldiers in its resistance to the Iranian offensive, a figure that has little basis in reality (AFP, September 15). The real figure is more likely in the dozens. Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said that PJAK had agreed to stay one kilometer away from the Iranian border but promised that Iranian forces would continue taking action against PJAK until the group was destroyed (Mehr News Agency, October 9).
Brigadier General Ali Shademani, Deputy Head of the Operations Department of the Iranian Armed Forces, told Iran’s official press that PJAK was a creation of the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel and would be replaced by these nations once it became clear PJAK would not succeed in its objectives (Press TV, September 29). PJAK in turn has accused the United States of providing intelligence about the Kurdish insurgents to Turkey which is then shared with the Iranians, though Ankara has denied passing on U.S. intelligence reports to Tehran (Rudaw.net, September 10).
Some Turkish media sources reported that the effective leader of the PKK, Murat Karayilan, was captured during Iranian operations in mid-August. The Iranians allegedly located the PKK commander by using intelligence provided by Turkey’s Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (National Intelligence Organization – MIT). It is widely suspected in Turkey that Iran intervened to save Murat Karayilan from being killed by Turkish bombing by arresting and later releasing the PKK leader (Hurriyet, October 17). In this scenario it has been speculated that the PJAK withdrawal from its forward bases in Iran was the price of Karayilan’s freedom (Yeni Safak, October 12; Today’s Zaman, October 12; Hurriyet Daily News, October 11).
Karayilan affirmed that he was not under detention in Iran when he appeared on the PKK-affiliated Roj TV in early October, a declaration Iranian authorities supported by saying they had no information regarding the alleged arrest of Karayilan (Rudaw.net, October 18). Turkish authorities expressed satisfaction with Iran’s denials, saying Turks should “turn a blind eye” to the allegations while refuting a rumor that Karayilan had been captured by Syrian forces (Hurriyet October 14).
SALAFIST ATTACKS ON SUFI SHRINES IN LIBYA MAY INDICATE PROLONGED SECTARIAN VIOLENCE
A sudden series of attacks on Sufi shrines and tombs in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli by heavily armed men in uniform has shocked the large Sufi community in Libya and may indicate the development of a pattern of sectarian attacks similar to those against Sufi groups in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere. Supporters in Tripoli welcomed the attacks, claiming the Sufis were using the shrines to practice “black magic” (AP, October 13).
In Tripoli, the attackers broke into the shrines of Abdul Rahman al-Masri and Salim Abu Sa’if, exhuming and taking away their remains while burning relics and other items found at the shrines. Similar attacks were reported elsewhere in Tripoli and in the nearby town of Janzour. Some of the attackers boasted of having come from Egypt for the purpose of destroying Sufi shrines (AP, October 13). Tripoli’s revolutionary military council is currently headed by Benghazi Salafist militia leader Abd al-Hakim Belhadj.
Salafists in general oppose the construction of elaborate tombs for Muslim holy men or their visitation in the hope of securing their intercession through pilgrimage and prayer. The sentiment runs so strongly in the Salafist community that Saudi Wahhabis even once tried to destroy the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina.
In Somalia, heavily armed al-Shabaab fighters have used hammers and other tools to destroy Sufi shrines and graves while chanting “Allahu Akbar.” According to an al-Shabaab official, such operations would continue “until we eradicate the culture of worshiping graves" (AFP, March 26; see Terrorism Monitor Brief, April 2, 2010). Al-Shabaab’s anti-Sufi approach led to the foundation of Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama’a (ASJ), a Sufi-dominated militia devoted to the destruction of al-Shabaab’s Salafi-Jihadists.
In recent years the ever-mercurial Gaddafi backed away from his regime’s anti-Sufi policies (largely directed at the once-powerful Sanussi order) and began to encourage the wider adoption of Sufism by Libyan Muslims as a means of countering the growth of Islamism in centers like Benghazi. To this end Tripoli was the surprising host of the Second World Sufi Conference, held in the Libyan capital last February (Tripoli Post, February 15).
Transitional National Council head Mustafa Abdul Jalil denounced the attacks, describing them as “not on the side of the revolution,” while urging a noted religious leader in the rebel ranks, al-Sadiq al-Gheriani, to issue a fatwa condemning such attacks. Al-Gheriani has already said he opposes the construction of such shrines, but does not advocate their forcible removal while the successful rebel forces still lack a unified command (AP, October 13).
In neighboring Egypt there have been reports that Salafists intend to destroy a number of Sufi shrines and mosques, beginning with the mosque housing the tomb of al-Mursi Abu’l-Abbas and continuing with the destruction of 15 other Sufi mosques in Alexandria. Sufis in that city have supplied the Egyptian military with a list of 20 mosques that have already been attacked by Salafists. Street-fights have broken out elsewhere in Egypt as Salafists use the post-Revolution breakdown in law and order to attack Sufi shrines (al-Masry al-Youm, April 12). Sufis in Egypt are reported to be forming self-defense committees.