BRIEFS

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 10

IRAQ-BASED KOMALA PARTY DESCRIBES THE STRUGGLE FOR IRANIAN KURDISTAN

The leader of an armed Kurdish-Iranian opposition group recently described his group’s continuing struggle for an autonomous Iranian Kurdistan and his views on the future of the Islamist Shi’a regime in Tehran. Details were provided in an interview with Abdullah Mohtadi, the secretary-general of the Komala Party (the short form for the group’s full name, Komalay Shoreshgeri Zahmatkeshani Kurdistani Iran – The Revolutionary Organization of the Toilers of Kurdistan), who spoke from al-Sulaymaniya in Kurdish northern Iraq (al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 1).

The party was formed in 1969 by Ibrahim Alizadeh to promote an autonomous status for the Kurdish community in Iran. The group took up arms in 1979 as one of a number of leftist groups to oppose the Shah. Since then it has focused on creating an autonomous Kurdish region based on the northwestern Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Ilam, Kermanshan and Western Azerbaijan, all of which have significant Kurdish populations, as well as Assyrian and Armenian minorities. The four provinces roughly cover the area included in the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad (1946). 

Komala was driven out of Iran and into Iraq in 1983, where they were initially greeted coldly by the Ba’athist regime, though they were later accepted by Baghdad as a card that could be played against Iran. This did not prevent the group from being attacked with artillery and poison gas during Saddam’s anti-Kurdish Anfal campaign in 1988-89. Today Komala has split into a smaller Communist faction intent on preserving the group’s original Marxist-Leninist orientation and a larger and more moderate socialist faction led by Abdullah Mohtadi.

Inside Iran, the party led a brief rebellion in the largely Kurdish city of Mahabad in 2005 but backed down when it realized the revolt was incapable of toppling the regime and would only bring heavy reprisals (Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2007). As a result of this experience, the movement remains an armed force but concentrates on political activities. Estimates of the number of available fighters range from 200 to 1,000. Komala fighters and officials are based in the Kara Dagh mountains outside the Kurdish city of al-Sulaymaniya in northern Iraq.

Secretary General Mohtadi views the creation of a “Greater Kurdistan” or even secession from Iran as “unrealistic,” preferring the establishment of a “democratic, secular, federal Iran” (komala.org, July 3, 2007). The party blames Tehran for a host of ills in Iranian Kurdistan, including “the military occupation of Kurdistan, widespread poverty… the suppression of Kurdish culture, drug addiction, religious suppression, forced migration, imprisonment, terror, torture, and the killing of whoever opposes these tyrannical policies” (komala.org).

While Mohtadi urged Komala splinter groups to return to the mainstream party during the al-Sharq al-Aswsat interview, he also condemned the activities of the better-known Parti bo Jiyani Azadi la Kurdistan (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan – PJAK); “PJAK is the other face of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party]. It is not an independent party and was not established by the true Kurdish people in Iran. It does not serve the interests of the Kurdish liberation movement…”

Mohtadi opposes the methods and objectives of his fellow leftists in the PKK:

“The problem with the PKK… I mean, the Kurdish toilers have every right to fight for their rights and their freedom. But the PKK as an organization is not reliable. They are very fanatic in their nationalism. They are very undemocratic in nature. They have no principles. I mean, they can deal with Satan. They can fight the Kurds… They have fought the Kurds much more than they have fought the Turks. When you study the history of the PKK, you find out that they have been against every single Kurdish movement in every part of Kurdistan. At the same time they have had good friendly relations with all the states where the Kurds live, where the oppressed live” (komala.org, July 3, 2007).

Komala demanded the overthrow of the Tehran regime in a 2006 manifesto signed by two other Kurdish-Iranian groups, but Mohtadi says the movement no longer wishes to “repeat the Iraqi scenario in Iran by overthrowing the regime.” The Komala leader views the Iraqi decision to expel the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) with some alarm, not through any common ideology or objectives, but as a possible precursor to the expulsion of the Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq. Mohtadi used the interview to remind Baghdad of the strategic importance of these groups; “The Kurdish forces constitute huge pressure cards against Iran. If these cards are lost, the Iraqi government will not have anything with which to bargain with Iran.” When the Iranian regime “inevitably” collapses, the Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups will have a strong presence on the ground.

Mohtadi maintains that the Iranian reformers led by former President Mohammad Khatami have little chance of taking power after the coming elections in Iran because of the support the current regime has from the armed forces, the Revolutionary Guards, the Basiji paramilitary and the intelligence and security services.

CHINESE NAVY CONDUCTS INDEPENDENT OPERATIONS AGAINST SOMALI PIRATES

A second Chinese naval taskforce under Rear Admiral Yao Zhilou has arrived in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to combat piracy in the area (Jiefangjun Bao Online, April 8). The new taskforce replaces the Chinese Navy’s earlier taskforce, consisting of the multi-purpose missile destroyer DDG-169 Wuhan, the destroyer DDG-171 Haikou (equipped with phased-array radar and the latest long-range air defense missiles) and the Qiandaohu class supply ship Weishanhu (Xinhua, December 26, 2008; China Daily, December 26, 2008). Since their arrival on January 6, the Chinese ships rescued three ships from pirates and drove off more than 100 suspicious vessels while providing naval escorts through the region (Xinhua, April 5).

The second taskforce consists of China’s most advanced missile destroyer, the DDG-167 Shenzhen, and the FFG-570 Huangshan, the navy’s latest model frigate, which has a structural design intended to reduce its radar profile (Xinhua, April 2). The new task force also includes two helicopters and a contingent of navy Special Forces. Like the earlier taskforce, all the ships are modern products of Chinese naval yards. The ships belong to the South China Sea fleet, based in the port of Zhanjiang in Guangdong Province. The supply ship Weishanhu will remain in the Gulf to service the newly arrived ships.
 
More than 1,000 Chinese merchant ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. Before the Chinese deployment began, as much as 20% of Chinese shipping in the Gulf was attacked in the previous year. Chinese authorities were no doubt alarmed by the hijacking of a Saudi oil tanker earlier this year off the coast of Somalia. Chinese tankers carry the output of the Chinese oil operations in Sudan from Port Sudan on the Red Sea Coast into the piracy zone in the Gulf of Aden. Chinese oil firms have also signed deals with the autonomous government of Puntland (the base of most pirate activities) to exploit potential oil reserves in Somali waters off the Puntland coast (Financial Times, July 13, 2007; AFP December 19, 2007).

According to Rear Admiral Yao Zhilou, the second mission, expected to last six months, may expand its zone of operations in response to adaptations made by the pirates, including greater coordination, upgraded arms and wider areas of operation (China Daily, April 18).

Huang Jiaxiang, political commissar of the South Sea Fleet of the Chinese Navy, outlined the objectives of the Chinese naval deployment;

• Fulfilling international obligations.

• Protecting national interests.

• Demonstrating the “good image of the People’s Army and the Chinese Navy.”

• Raising the navy’s capacity to carry out a variety of assigned duties (Xinhua, April 5).

The Chinese warships operate independently of the 20-nation Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), a UN-authorized anti-piracy naval force. China has pledged to share information with CTF-151 ships and provide humanitarian help to foreign vessels in danger of attack (Xinhua, December 26, 2008). The main concern of the mission is the protection of Chinese merchant ships as well as any ship from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan that appeals for protection (Xinhua, March 31; China Daily, December 26, 2008). There was initially some political concern in Taiwan after Chinese authorities reported a tanker belonging to Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group had requested an escort from the Chinese naval group, but Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council later reported the Formosa Products Cosmos was registered in Liberia and no Taiwanese ships had been authorized to seek protection from the Chinese navy (China Post [Taiwan], January 14).

The Chinese naval deployment offers the opportunity to train naval crews in real-life conditions, gain familiarity with the operations of the foreign naval forces comprising CTF-151 (including American ships) and increase their knowledge of African coastal waters in an area of increasing strategic importance for Beijing. The latter, combined with Chinese involvement in a number of African peacekeeping missions, is resulting in a steady supply of intelligence on areas of Chinese interest in the region.

The importance of the return of the Chinese Navy to African waters after an absence of 600 years was celebrated in a music video produced by the Chinese Navy’s political art troupe (http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNjE3NjkyMDA=.html).  The song, entitled “Make Haste to Somalia,” makes reference to the 15th century Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He, who took a Chinese fleet of hundreds of ships to the East African coast:

Make haste to Somalia, cruise the Gulf of Aden
With lofty sentiments, the Chinese navy heads for the deep blue
Braving wind and waves, the warship’s flag flutters,
The Chinese navy, a bright sword to harmonize the ocean.

Chinese warriors, valiant men with iron wills,
Intrepid journey, 600 years after Zheng He.
Heroic sailors, forge bravely ahead,
Bearing heavy responsibility, the motherland will see our triumphant return.

(Translation by Blackandwhitecat.org, 2008).