TEHRAN, Sept. 3 – Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, delivered a strongly worded demand to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other Iranian officials here on Monday to halt the shelling of a mountainous border region in Iraq’s north (Kurdistan), where Mr. Zebari said the bombardment has driven as many as 3,000 Kurdish villagers from their homes and set orchards and fields ablaze.
Mr. Zebari said in an interview that the Iranians, who have refused to acknowledge publicly that the shelling was taking place, did not dispute his account. He said the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, described the shelling as Iran’s response to guerrilla attacks against it by a group that is opposed to the Iranian government and is believed to have bases on the Iraqi side of the border.
Members of that group, Pezak, have claimed responsibility for attacks inside Iran, and they are believed to have shot down at least one Iranian helicopter in recent months. But Mr. Zebari said the shelling of the villages was indiscriminate and was achieving little against Pezak positions, and he made clear that Iraqi patience was wearing thin with the bombardment, which has taken place intermittently for about two weeks. "In a normal relationship between two countries, this amounts to an act of aggression," Mr. Zebari said. Although Mr. Zebari conceded in the interview that the conflict in Iraq made this time far from ordinary, his words were likely to be sobering against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, during which millions died.
In a news briefing during President Bush’s visit to Iraq on Monday, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki also discussed the situation in the north (Kurdistan) and suggested that Turkey too was shelling across the border into Iraq.
Before Turkish elections last month, Turkey’s military staged an enormous troop buildup on its border and by some accounts was on the verge of a major attack, citing incursions by Kurdish armed groups from Iraq into Turkey. Some of those groups are believed to favor an independent Kurdish nation that would include parts of Kurd-dominated southern Turkey.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests in Tehran on Monday by The New York Times for comment on the bombardments, and a Times reporter accompanying the Iraqi foreign minister was effectively barred from a diplomatic conference attended by Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Mottaki.
The Iraqi government had previously sent an official letter of protest to Iran about the shelling. But the Iraqi ambassador to Iran, Mohammad Majid al-Sheikh, said Monday that Iran had ignored that letter. "We have not received any sensible response from them," Mr. Sheikh said. "We demand that they respond to our protest."
As senior government officials discussed the attacks, poor villagers in the area, which is north and east of the provincial capitals of Erbil and Sulaimaniya, were paying the price. On Monday, Awella Saleem, 62, returned to his largely destroyed house near the border. He said his family was inside when bombs started falling several days ago.
"We survived by coincidence, and two of our family were injured," Mr. Saleem said. "Why are we under such a savage attack by Iran? There is nobody in our village who would harm Iran." Officials in the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, a relief organization, said that about 500 families had been displaced by the bombing, figures that were generally consistent with the estimates by Mr. Zebari, who is Kurdish. Othman Haji Mahmoud, the interior minister for the regional government, said last week that the government denounced the bombing and offered to open direct talks with Iran on the subject. Members of Pezak are said to be Iranian Kurds essentially seeking autonomy for Kurds in Iran. How long their cross-border incursions have been taking place is not known.
Senior Iraqi government officials suspect that the Iranian shelling may be in part a response to American assertions that Iran is supplying deadly weaponry to armed groups, particularly Shiite militias, in Iraq. The United States has demanded that Iran stop supporting the armed groups, and now Iran is demanding that Iraq and the United States stop the Pezak attacks. Privately, Iran has said it believes the United States could be backing the Pezak group, an assertion that could not be confirmed late Monday. Mr. Zebari said that controlling the group should fall to Iraqi government forces, in particular the Kurd-dominated national army in the northern (Kurdistan) region.
But with so many of those troops committed to security operations in the unstable center of Iraq, the northern (Kurdistan) government was short of troops to send to the border regions, he said. In an interview near the border on Monday, Hawere Kareme, who described himself as a Pezak official, asserted that Iran was aiming to empty the border villages of Kurds and fill them with what he called Islamic extremists.
The sectarian tension between Kurds, who are generally Sunni, and Arab and Iranian Shiites is high in the area, adding yet another troubling dimension to the Iraq conflict. "Iran wants to destroy what the Kurds of Iraq have built and destabilize the province," Mr. Kareme said. "Take a look at our headquarters and our fighters in the Kandeel Mountains; none of them was injured. These villages are far from our activities and movements, but Iran shells it fiercely."
Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from northern (Kurdistan) Iraq.