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Middle East: Shots Across the Border

2 minute read

Relations between the Moslem nations of Iraq and Iran have never been very warm. Most Iraqis are Arabs, but the majority of Iranians pride themselves on being ethnically distinct Persians. Each country has large numbers of its citizens residing across unguarded boundaries in the other, which encourages illegal immigration and smuggling.

But the most pressing issue between the two is the Kurds—the fiercely independent tribesmen who inhabit neighboring areas of both nations. For six years, Kurds in Iraq, led by Mustafa Barzani and seeking autonomy, have been in rebellion against the Baghdad government. Last week Barzani’s guerrilla war had touched off an angry border clash between Iraq and Iran.

Barzani has long enjoyed aid from his Kurdish brethren in Iran. The mountainous frontier is not only impossible to police, but the Teheran government—anxious to avoid open revolt among its own 3,000,000 Kurds—has not strained itself trying. Last month Iraqi troops, opening yet another “offensive” against “Barzani’s gang,” pursued Kurdish rebels across the ill-defined border into Iran, while Iraqi MIG jets strafed Kurds in villages on the Iranian side. Iran charged that a 150-man Iraqi force shelled the Iranian village of Tang-e-Hammam, executed two captured Iranian gendarmes, and hacked their bodies to bits.

Iraq denied all—then accused Iranian border guards of “accompanying Kurdish infiltrators” three kilometers in side Iraq. Back came Iran with the protest that 100 armed Iraqis had invaded Iran again, attacking Iranian nationals and rustling cattle. Last week Iran accused Iraq of four more air attacks, listed a total of seven Iranians dead and 20 wounded in the frontier fray.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ghollam Abbas Aram used the flare-up to resurrect another longstanding dispute between the two countries over the Shatt-al-Arab River, whose waters, which empty into the Persian Gulf, they are supposed to share. Aram accused Iraq of obstructing Iranian traffic, ignoring a 1937 agreement that was meant to regulate use of the river waters. Announced Aram: “The Iranian government regards the agreement as breached.” With that, Iran ordered a mobilization of its forces along the border, alerted its elite Kermanshah Division, scrambled its U.S.-built supersonic F-5 jet fighters, vowing to “silence the voice” of Iraqi artillery and “crush” any further Iraqi aggression.

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