From protesters in Iran to guerrillas in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan | International

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They form five perfect rows. Some women hold the tricolor Kurdish flag. They all carry an AK-47 rifle on their backs and when the commander gives the order, the maneuvers begin while shouting slogans in favor of an independent Kurdish state. Finished the instruction, they run one by one towards the mountainside, where they take refuge every day before the sun sets. Every night, in a different place. Before the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) fired several missiles at them, in retaliation for the protests unleashed in Iranian Kurdistan over the death of Mahsa —or Jina, the Kurdish name by which her family called her— Amini, lived in a small cluster of white houses attached to the foot of the mountain, 40 minutes from the road that connects the cities of Erbil and Koya, in Iraqi Kurdistan. But they became an easy target, and after the attack, they left the place. Now, they change their location daily to avoid being identified by the Iranian drones that fly over the area.

When they break ranks they sit in groups of four or five and build a small fire to keep warm. It is winter and it is cold. They are between the ages of 18 and in their early twenties, and some even look younger. The wave of repression exercised by Tehran since last September has caused the exodus of dozens of Kurdish women who have crossed the border illegally and, once in Iraq, have joined the ranks of one of the Kurdish-Iranian parties in exile. . The influence of these formations is very high. The Kurds are the only nationality, within the ethnic diversity that coexists in Iran, that has a solid political structure abroad. From the other side of the border, with headquarters spread across different parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, the leaders of these parties often and effectively mobilize their compatriots to denounce the lack of rights and the historical repression to which the regime. All the parties have women's military sections that bring together hundreds of women who, recently or in the past, have left Iran and have become peshmergasas Kurdish fighters are called.

Hema Hawrami joined the ranks of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in 2017 to fight for the rights of Kurdish women. Now, she is a commander and leads a battalion of an unknown number of female soldiers. She does not want to indicate how many peshmergas they make up the military arm of the party "so as not to give information to Iran," he told EL PAÍS. This combatant defends that the fact that Amini was a Kurdish angered the police even more and provoked even greater cruelty against her. "Her death of hers was the trigger, but for decades we Kurds have been fighting to claim our rights, that's why I came here."

At his side, Jilamo, with his face hidden by a scarf, explains that he fled Iran last November after seeing the climate of "violence and death" in the streets of his hometown, Saqez, the same town where Amini was born and now his body rests, turned into a symbol of the fight for freedom. In Iran, she was studying the second year of Law and had a "normal" life, but without rights, the 24-year-old says. “As in Rojalat – the Kurdish name for Iranian Kurdistan – they don't let us learn our language, now I teach Kurdish to my colleagues. My parents know that I am here and they are very proud. I only hope that with this fight we can overthrow the regime and one day have our state. I also hope that the international community does not abandon us, ”she pleads.

On January 23, the European Union approved new sanctions against senior officials of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, but rejected a petition approved by the European Parliament to designate this elite military corps as a terrorist organization, due to its brutal repressive record and recent executions of several demonstrators. The decision fell like a bucket of cold water on the Iranian diaspora, which has repeatedly called on the international community to break diplomatic relations with Iran and expel all ambassadors, something that, if it occurred, would completely bury the negotiations between Iran and the West. to save the nuclear deal that Donald Trump scuttled in 2018.

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A group of Iranian 'peshmergas' from the PAK made a fire to warm themselves on January 2 after carrying out maneuvers in a mountainous area near the border with Iran.ZAHIDA MEMBER

The Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party (KIDP) is the oldest Iranian-Kurdish party. Shortly after its founding, in 1945, its leader, Qazi Muhammad, established, with the backing of the USSR, the Republic of Mahabad, the first and only Kurdish state in history, overthrown by the forces of Shah Pahlavi 11 months after its foundation. In the city of Koya, an hour's drive from Erbil in an easterly direction, is the one that had been its headquarters until November, today destroyed after Tehran launched, starting last September, for a hundred days, 35 missiles ballistic weapons and 72 bomb-laden drones. Thirteen people died and 30 were injured. In the area there are the visible remains of the missiles and the walls show the impact of the shrapnel.

Shiva Moradian has been part of the PDKI's women's military unit since 2019. She experienced the brutality of the regime very closely when two of her uncles were murdered at the Revolutionary Guard premises. At first, she worked for the party from Iran, managing communications with Iraq and recruiting new members, but one day the police started questioning her, she feared arrest and fled from her. This combatant denounces the "double stigma" of Kurdish women in a country with a "racist" government. She maintains that the Kurdish parties uphold the separation between religion and politics and "would never force a woman to wear the hijab against her will," she says. Before the bombings, she “lived in the countryside and worked on a PDKI news channel that was broadcast from there. Now, with the base destroyed, she performs minor tasks and above all I train in the mountains together with the rest of the guerrilla comrades”.

In the city of Suleimaniya, still further east, is the Komala camp, the Kurdish-Iranian formation of communist ideology that on September 28 received the first of the cross-border attacks from Iran. The secondary road that leads to Suleimaniyah from Erbil is narrow and dangerous due to the continuous presence of trucks loaded with goods heading towards the border. There is a main road, much better paved, but most Kurds avoid it because the route passes through Kirkuk, territory officially controlled since 2017 by Iraqi forces, but actually under the domination of the pro-Iranian Hashd Al Shaabi militias. To get to this city, despite driving by the alternative route, there are up to three checkpoints in which several officers ask the occupants of the vehicles for their passports. Although the entire territory is under the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the delicate balance of forces means that security checks are constant.

Impact of an Iranian missile on January 4 at the headquarters of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDKI), in the city of Koya, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Impact of an Iranian missile on January 4 at the headquarters of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDKI), in the city of Koya, in Iraqi Kurdistan.Zahida Member

The refuge of the peshmergas de Komala is a concrete burrow built under a promontory of earth and trees. From the air it is impossible to detect it. Inside, there are more than a dozen women who have left behind children and husbands to join the defense of their ideals. Some have been around for years and are elated by what is happening in Iran. But others have just arrived and are still getting used to the place.

Jina also comes from Saqez, like Mahsa Amini. He is 32 years old and he came here a month ago. An acquaintance tipped her off that the police knew she was helping the injured with first aid. “I went to the interrogation, but then I left. I spent two days in a small village and crossed into Iraq”, she explains. Jina has a teenage son with whom she barely speaks: "The Revolutionary Guard has tapped our phones and I cannot jeopardize his safety."

The room where they live is too small to house 10 beds, cabinets, a mirror and several rifles. “All of this is not just because of Amini. It is for all the women who have died at the hands of the regime for defending their rights, ”she says.

Her partner and friend, Shala, bitterly remembers how her friend Peyman was killed in the protests, and then she decided to flee, while Bayan, a native of Tabriz, joined Komala a few years ago, after the government closed her photography studio. after discovering on their social networks photos of the protests that broke out in 2019 over the price of gasoline. Her husband, also a soldier, died last year hit by a drone. “The Revolutionary Guards regularly attack the areas near the border to destroy Komala and KDPI positions. The only thing we can do from here is defensive work ”, she assures.

It is night and the darkness in the camp is total. have just prepared hawla, a dessert made from sugar, almonds and honey. They will all have dinner together and then, like every day, they will change places to spend the night.

Two fighters from the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) rest after carrying out several military exercises on Monday, January 2, at an undetermined point on the Iran-Iraq border.
Two fighters from the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) rest after carrying out several military exercises on Monday, January 2, at an undetermined point on the Iran-Iraq border.Zahida Member

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