The Trump administration’s decision to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) has received applause from Iran hawks on both sides of America’s partisan divide. Conversely, it has received criticism from some of President Donald Trump’s opponents and those who prefer to approach Iran’s growing influence in the region through dialogue.
However, some of the loudest applause has been from the victims of IRGC terrorism and violence since its founding, in particular Kurdish and other minority groups in Iran. One of these Iranian opposition groups is Komala, a Kurdish political party, which took up arms after the mullahs hijacked the Iranian revolution in 1979 and suffered at the hands of many IRGC atrocities against the Kurds, whom the Iranian government continues to see as little more than a troublesome minority. There as many as 12 million Kurds in Iran today.
“The designation of the IRGC as an FTO earlier this month is a clear message to the Iranian regime that its destructive [policies] will no longer be tolerated,” Salah Bayaziddi, who represents Komala in the United States, said in a media statement after the listing.
Komala is no longer involved in the armed struggle; however, from the relative safety of its headquarters in northern Iraq, it continues to advocate for an end to the current Iranian regime and a democratic future for Iran. It was one of six Iranian Kurdish opposition groups that called for a boycott of Iran’s last presidential election, for example.
“As a military and terrorist arm of the Iranian regime, the IRGC is responsible for the killing of thousands of Iranian citizens, including Kurds, as well as several hundred American forces in Iraq,” Bayaziddi wrote.
Bayaziddi speaks for many Kurdish groups. Indeed, multiple Kurdish opposition groups have long referred to the IRGC as a terrorist organization, and certainly the Iranian state had not hesitated from using terrorism against Kurdish dissidents around the world, attacks that have often taken or risked the lives of civilians. For example, in 1992 when Iranian agents carried out a deadly mafia-style attack on four Kurdish dissidents, this occurred not in Iran but at a Greek restaurant in Berlin.
Komala is no longer fighting the IRGC within Iran, but three other groups have continued the armed struggle, namely the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), and the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). The third one, PJAK, is the best known, and called last year for a united front against the Iranian regime.
The PDKI had its origins in a briefly independent Kurdish republic in Iran that was formed in the waning days of World War II with Soviet support. Komala as well is older than some of the other more recent Kurdish groups, having been formed in 1969. Like Kurdish dissidents of all stripes, it has long used northern Iraq as a haven from which to launch operations.
“Komala Peshmerga fought with the United States against another terrorist organization, Islamic State, in Iraq only a few years ago. Then as now, Komala stood against Iran’s Islamists that came to power [in 1979] … and in the 1980s defended Kurdish areas of the country from attacking IRGC forces,” Bayaziddi said.
Today Komala maintains its leftist worldview but has abandoned armed struggle. Instead, it advocates for democracy and has worked with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).
Just how many Kurdish civilians have suffered at the hands of the IRGC is unclear, though some statistics say as many as 60,000 civilians have died since 1979. For example, after a 1979 uprising, the state executed at least 1,200 Kurdish political prisoners. Kurds in Iran face discrimination, and the Iranian state does not recognize Kurdish languages.
Trump’s policy, of course, has also been applauded elsewhere in the Middle East, by Israel and also by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have made similar designations of the IRGC. These states also worry that they could one day be the targets of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, which is controlled by the IRGC. But within in the region the loudest applause may be in Kurdish.