Iraqi border guards exchanged fire with Iranian troops along the two countries’ border on Thursday, the first major incident between the two since Iran took over a disputed oil well in December.
An Iraqi officer was captured by the Islamic Republic’s forces in the 90-minute gunfight on the border with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, which was apparently sparked when Iranian troops mistook Iraqi soldiers for a Kurdish rebel group.
“Iranian forces thought that the border guards belonged to PJAK (the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan — an Iranian Kurdish rebel group) and started to open fire,” Brigadier General Ahmed Gharib Diskara, the head of Iraq’s border guards in Sulaimaniyah province, told reporters.
“The border guards shot back and one officer of the Iraqi army has been captured. Negotiations are ongoing to free him.”
Gharib said the shooting took place in a mountainous part of the two countries’ border known as Shamiran, 90 kilometres (55 miles) southeast of Sulaimaniyah, the Iraqi Kurdistan’s second-biggest city.
PJAK is a Kurdish rebel group in Iran’s northwest. It is closely allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which operates in Turkey and is listed as a “terrorist” group by Ankara and much of the international community.
In May 2009, Iranian helicopters attacked three Iraqi Kurdish villages in a cross-border raid, the first time Iran used aircraft against Kurdish rebels. There were no casualties.
Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey all have significant ethnic Kurdish minorities.