Source AP ©

Iraq urges Iran to stop shelling border areas

Iranian artillery barrages against Kurdish guerrilla positions in border areas were strongly criticized by Iraq Thursday. It was said that if such shelling continued it would negatively effect relations between the two neighboring countries.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari made his comments amid reports from northern Iraq that villagers in border areas in the provinces of Sulaimaniyah and Irbil have been fleeing their homes as a result of Iranian shelling.

Iranian shelling "has been ongoing and unfortunately has become a daily or a routine practice. Recently, we summoned the Iranian ambassador and handed him a note of protest," Zebari said in English.

He added that the Iraqi government "demanded an immediate cessation of these attacks on innocent people because it has led to extensive damage to the property, to the environment of the area and it also has led many people to leave their homes because of the continuation of the shelling."

The shelling has been directed against positions of the Free Life Party, or PEJAK, a breakaway faction of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, also known as PKK. Iran says PEJAK launches attacks inside Iran from bases in Iraq.

"PEJAK sometimes moves in border area but this does not permit all this continuous, daily and intensive shelling," Zebari said. "On behalf of the Iraqi government, we call on the Iranian government to stop shelling because it will impact bilateral relations. Also we are willing, we are ready to discuss all the issues that concern the Iranian side through direct negotiations and peaceful means. We hope that these attacks will stop immediately."