Iraqi Kurds accuse Iran of illegal border crossing

July 12, 2011 - 2:14 PM

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) — Lawmakers from Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday accused Iran of building on Iraqi soil — the latest in an escalating border spat.

The three-province Kurdish region in northern Iraq borders Iran. On Monday, a senior Iranian military official accused the president of the Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, of providing bases to an Iranian Kurdish opposition group, PEJAK. Iran reserves the right to attack those bases on Iraqi soil, the official was quoted as saying.

On Tuesday, 10 lawmakers from the Iraqi Kurdish parliament visited the village of Choman, about 10 kilometers from the Iranian border. They said they saw Iranian workers paving roads in an area that has been shelled repeatedly by Iranian artillery. They said the Iranians have been in Choman for the past two weeks.

Previous Iranian attacks have killed sheep and birds that belonged to Kurdish farmers, the lawmakers said.

The central Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government should press Iran to "stop these abuses" and should also complain to the United Nations, said Carwan Salih, chairman of the Kurdish parliament's defense committee.

Iran's border with Iraq's northern Sulaimaniyah province, porous and largely unmarked, has been at the center of repeated sovereignty spats, even as the Shiite-led governments of Iran and Iraq try to strengthen their political ties.

A year ago, Iran built a small fort on Iraqi land near the border village of Haj Omran in an apparent attempt to protect Iranian troops from PEJAK rebels, said Salih, the Kurdish lawmaker.

The mountainous region is near where three American hikers were detained by Iranian forces in July 2009 and charged with spying after Tehran said they illegally crossing the border. One of the hikers has since been released on bail, and all maintain they thought they were on the Iraqi side of the border when they were arrested.

Earlier this month, Barzani, the Kurdish regional government president, called on Tehran to discuss the dispute.

Also Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed five members of a government-backed Sunni militia that has helped U.S. forces fight al-Qaida.

The bomber drove an explosives-packed car into a security checkpoint just outside the capital Baghdad in the western suburb of Abu Ghraib, according to two police officers.

The checkpoint was guarded by militiamen belonging to Sahwa, or Awakening Councils. The group once fought Americans but later joined U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in one of the turning points of the Iraq war.

Sunni insurgents have since frequently targeted the group.