Iran helicopters strike Iraqi Kurd villages

Iran uses aircrafts despite US control of Iraqi airspace

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Iranian helicopters attacked three Iraqi Kurdish villages in a pre-dawn raid on Saturday, a senior border guard official said, the first time Iran has used aircraft against Kurdish rebels.

"At 4 am (0100 GMT) they attacked with artillery the villages of Kani Saif, Jomarasi and Kara Sozi, that belong to the Panjwin district," a senior Iraqi border guard official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"After the attacks at 9 a.m. three Iranian helicopters attacked these areas again," he said. "This is the first time they have used helicopters."

The official added that the area was not considered a stronghold of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an Iranian Kurdish separatist group that appeared to have been the target of the raid.

But Al Arabiya TV correspondent in Arbil, Iraq said there were other local reports that Iranian fighter jets, not helicopters, carried the attacks and that they flew at low altitude possibly to avoid U.S. radars detection.

Since its invasion of Iraq, the United States has exercised full control of Iraqi airspace. It is widely thought that the United States gave the green light for Turkish fighter jets to strike Kurdish rebels inside Iraq in many occasions.

The Iraqi border guard official said the Kurdish fighters tend to operate near the village of Qalat Dizah further north and that the Panjwin area has only been shelled twice in the past year, much less than areas closer to Iraqi Kurdistan's borders.

After the attacks at 9 a.m. three Iranian helicopters attacked these areas again. This is the first time they have used helicopters

Senior Iraqi border guard official

The attack came a week after 26 people were killed in a fierce gunbattle between Iranian police and Kurdish rebels near the Iraqi border, but it was not immediately clear if the events were linked.

Eighteen of those killed in the April 24 clash were Iranian policemen and eight were PJAK fighters, Iranian provincial justice Chief Allahyar Malekshahi said on Saturday.

"Five people suspected of participating in this terrorist attack have been arrested and are under investigation," he said.

Western Iran, which has a sizeable Kurdish population, has seen deadly fighting in recent years between Iranian security forces and PJAK rebels operating out of rear-bases in neighboring Iraq