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Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI)

Geography, politics and history have conspired to render 30 million Kurds the largest stateless people in the Middle East. The Kurds in Iran are believed to number approximately five million. Their situation in Iran is said to be far from stable, with the area in Northwestern Iran that they inhabit being under Iranian government control (living conditions are described as primitive, at best).

The KDPI's military operations and confrontation with the Iranian regime surged following the 1989 assassination of the party's leader, Abdol Rahman Ghassemlou. Since April 1993, Iranian government forces reportedly launched aerial attacks against Iranian Kurds, even those operating inside Iraqi territory, while Iraqi forces made armed incursions into the "protected zone" inside Iraq above the 36th parallel. But the group, whose fighters are mostly based in northern Iraq, announced a cease-fire in 1997.

Fresh clashes in July 2016 followed an announcement by the KDPI's secretary-general, Mostafa Hejri, urging Kurdish youths to join its ranks and unite "the struggle in the cities and in the mountains." Hejri's statement, made in March to mark the Persian New Year, Norouz, was interpreted as a call to renew the armed struggle against Iran. But KDPI officials have suggested that the group is merely trying to expand its contacts with Kurds inside Iran and recruit new forces. The leaders of this party believe that military activities -- which according to their interpretation are defensive actions against Iranian forces -- is a sign of a party's dynamism that could strengthen their base within the population.

The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) was founded after World War II, as a splinter of an Association for the Resurrection of Kurdistan. Left-leaning Kurdish activists formed the Komala Party in Mahabad in the 1940s. In July 1945, Komala changed its name to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). The party was practically liquidated when a Kurdish rebellion was crushed in 1966-67. It was reinstituted after 1973, when Dr. Abd ar-Rahman Qasemlu was elected the party's Secretary-General.Since 1984 the party has been based in Iraq. As of 17 September 1992, the party was led by its Secretary-General, Moustapha Hedjri.

The KDPI was the largest and best organized of the Kurdish opposition groups, and sought autonomy for the Kurds in Iran. It operated from its bases in Iraq against the Islamic regime. In the early 1980s a measure of autonomy in the Kurdish areas of western Iran were achieved following clashes between KDPI guerrillas and Revolutionary Guards, resulting in the latter's withdrawal from Mahabad, Sanandaj and Kamyaran, until a renewed government offensive, which allegedly left 1,000 Kurds and 500 government troops dead. In the 1990s armed clashes continued between KDPI and government forces, including bombing attacks against Iranian Kurds, both in western Iran and inside Iraqi territory.

Attempts made outside the country by the KDPI to negotiate a settlement on Kurdish autonomy with the Government of Iran resulted in the assassination of the KDPI's previous leadership. On 18 September 1992, the Iranian Kurdish leader, Sadik Sharafkindi and three others were assassinated in a restaurant in Berlin, where Mr. Sharafkindi had gone to hold secret autonomy talks with Iranian government representatives. A previous attempt in 1989 also ended with the assassination of then-KDPI leader Abdul Rahman Qassemlou in Vienna.

The KDPI has long been subject to attacks by the Iranian regime. In 1992, an Iranian and four Lebanese were accused of killing Iranian Kurdish dissidents, one of which was then Secretary-General of the KDPI. On 28 July 1996, Iranian forces fired shells at the KDPI's base and at an Iranian Kurdish refugees camp. Tehran conducted at least 13 assassinations in 1997, the majority of which targetted members of the KDPI. These are just a few of many reported attacks to have taken place against the KDPI through 2006.

Iranian Kurdish parties have consistently fractured. Since 1994 there had been reports of internal problems existing within the KDPI that weakened their political strength. These problems culminated in the separation of the minority wing of Mala Abdualla Hasanzada from the majority wing of Moustapha Hedjri in December 2006. Reports suggested that such a split would either assist in leading the KDPI out of its political stagnation or cause further disfunction. There have been major splits in both the KDPI and Komala since early 2007. In December 2006 a significant number of members in the KDPI broke away, renaming themselves KDP (removing Iran from the name of the Party and returning to the original name as established in 1945). The change of name not only distinguishes the new party from the old but also relates to its more broadly nationalist approach. The split also appeared to stem from personal, rather than ideological differences, between the two groups.

Kurdish opposition groups suspected of separatist aspirations, such as the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI), are brutally suppressed. At least 28 Kurdish prisoners convicted of national security charges remained on death row at the end of 2012.

Janes Sentinel Security Assessment, updated 30 January 2013, stated, "There are two distinct wings of Komaleh: the Komalah Communist Party of Iran (Komalah-CPI); and the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Komala-PIK).... The First Secretary of Komalah-CPI is Ebrahim Alizadeh. The Secretary-General of Komala-PIK is Abdullah Mohtadi.... The Komalah Communist Party of Iran (Komalah-CPI), led by Komaleh founder Ebrahim Alizadeh, retained the group's original Marxist-Leninist outlook, and operates as an autonomous Kurdish arm of the CPI; while the breakaway Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Komala-PIK), led by Abdullah Mohtadi, adopted a more moderate socialist ideology, and emerged as the larger faction."

Kamran Matin, a senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Sussex, said in July 2016 that the KDPI claimed it no longer had to sacrifice its own interests -- meaning Iranian Kurds' interests -- to ensure the security of Iraq's Kurdistan regional government. "The KDPI doesn't have that level of force to conquer territory and hold it or to inflict massive casualties on Iranian troops, simply because of the demographic proportion of the Kurdish population in Iran. Also because they have not been engaged in military activities for almost two decades, so even on a very simple military training [level], they're not really ready to cause any large-scale problems for the Iranian state..."

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