All Iranian Kurdish Militias Withdraw From Peshmerga Frontlines in Iraq, Except YRK

Photos by Karwan Zagros show YRK Fighters leaving Mount Qandil on 14 August, traveling through Iraqi Kurdistan Region cities to their final destination, the frontlines in Jalawla of Diyala province, where, together with peshmerga forces, they have been resisting the constant IS offensives:

30 Aug 2014 05:44 AM PDT – KT Special – The regional Iraqi Kurdish authorities have called on all the small Iranian Kurdish parties’ militias to withdraw from the peshmerga frontlines, reportedly at Tehran’s request. However, an Iranian Kurd volunteer-based united front militia, the YRK, has indirectly refused to obey the order. and is still fighting alongside the peshmergas against Islamic State (IS) terrorists. Most of the Iranian Kurdish opposition parties with small militias have been based in Iraqi Kurdistan for two decades now. They claim they were initially called up by the peshmerga ministry to aid the fight against IS, but were recently told to retreat by the ministry, reportedly at Tehran’s request. However, the “Yekinayen Parastina Rojhalat” (Protection Units of Rojahat), referred to simply by its’ Kurdish acronym, YRK, is still based on the frontline fighting against IS alongside peshmerga forces. The YRK says its fighters are Kurdish volunteers from the Rojhalat (Eastern Kurdistan) region of Iran and that they were initially organized mainly by the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK), while now they consider themselves as part of the Iranian Kurdish umbrella united front, the “Organization of Free and Democratic Society for East Kurdistan” (KODAR), which was established earlier this year by PJAK and its affiliated groups. YRK members also include many Iranian Kurdish fighters disillusioned with their own parties that began to withdraw from the Kurdish frontlines in Iraq following orders from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The YRK first joined the Kurdish peshmerga resistance against IS attacks in southern Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan), nearly three weeks ago.

Their convoys have since regularly passed through Kurdish cities and towns en-route to the Kurdish frontlines in the disputed areas of Diyala and Kirkuk provinces. KT talked to some of the YRK members now stationed on the outskirts of the town of Jalawla in the disputed areas of Diyala province, and they say that they have engaged in intense fighting against IS gunmen for more than two weeks now. “We will not withdraw like all other Iranian so-called ‘opposition’ groups are doing just because KRG ordered so under pressure from Tehran. YRK did not come here at the request of anybody and would not leave at the request of anyone either. We are fighting to defend our country and we do not ask permission from Tehran when to do so or otherwise,” a YRK commander in Jalawla told KT.

Mehdi Ahmadzada, a 24-year-old YRK fighter now stationed in the Jalawla frontline, said: “I am from Saqiz and left to Mount Qandil when I heard that Iranian Kurdish peshmergas were called to retreat from the frontline in Iraqi Kurdistan.” “To my surprise, I met many from other parties who had crossed the Iranian border to the PJAK camps in Qandil and they had already organized themselves in the YRK ranks. We were tested in a military training examination, some were rejected, but I was selected because I had good military experience,” he said. Many YRK commanders are reportedly former PJAK fighters, but the rank and file members KT talked to also include former members of the other Iranian Kurdish parties such as the Komala Party and Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran (PDKI). Sabah Muhammadi, a former PDKI member, said: “I left PDKI because KRG called them to retreat from the frontline and they did even though that was requested by Tehran. But I saw YRK did not care about such orders and continues to train and send fighters to the frontlines in southern [Iraqi] Kurdistan.” “It is just amazing how we are all from Rojhalat region and from different parties, but we are united in the YRK fighting to defend our land and honour from IS terrorists alongside our heroic peshmerga brothers in Jalawla,” Muhammadi said.

The first convoys of YRK fighters set off from Mount Qandil to the peshmerga frontline in Iraqi Kurdistan was on 14 August. They have since sent more troops as the fighting in Jalawla has kept intensifying on a daily basis. YRK fighters usually hold PJAK and YRK flags together on their convoy vehicles when they pass through Kurdish cities, and they say that they were taken by surprise how thousands of people had lined up on the streets of the town of Raniya and the city of Sulaimani in Iraqi Kurdistan to welcome their arrival back on 14 August.

“It was just a great feeling going through cheering crowds in the villages and cities of Iraqi Kurdistan. It showed that people really appreciated that we had travelled hundreds of kilometers to fight to defend them from IS attacks,” said 28-year-old Samiaa Fathulla, a women fighter of the YRK, who is originally from the Iranian Kurdish border town of Sardasht. She said: “We are all thankful for PJAK and KODAR because they helped us fulfill our wish to defend our country…They did not ask us to join their party or anything like that at all. They just said if you want to fight you must be capable of doing so and our duty is to collectively defend Kurdistan.”

Serdar Mako, a former PJAK commander who is now in charge of a YRK unit in Jalawla, said: “It is not time to think of partisan interests now when Kurdistan and all its peoples, including all the political parties, are threatened by terrorism. We in the YRK do not pay attention to party politics and the central work of our organisation was to bring about a Kurdish self-defense force united for common action. I think we have been successful in making the first steps.” He added: “YRK is now a great focal point for a unity which we have been craving for as Kurds of Rojhalat [in Iran} for years now. It is time for all Kurds from Rojhalat to join us to pursue Kurdish unity and stand up together to defend our land in the face of terrorism. ”

The YRK has been fighting for more than two weeks now alongside peshmerga forces and they have together managed to successfully repel constant IS attacks. The YRK medical team told KT that one of their militia women was wounded, but no fighters have been killed by IS.“YRK fighter with peshmergas have killed and wounded many IS gunmen. No one has been killed from our YRK units; only a sniper lightly wounded, a female comrade of ours. She is OK now, receiving treatment at a local hospital nearby,” said Shukria Panahi, head of a five-member YRK medical team in Jalawla frontline in Diwali province.