Iran has launched a deadly cross-border airstrike into northern Iraq to punish Kurds for their role in supporting demonstrations over the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in Iranian police custody that are still rattling the Tehran regime.
As many as 13 people were killed and 58 injured in the Iranian drone strikes on military bases in northern Iraq that belong to the exiled Kurdish Democratic party of Iran.
The KDPI said in a statement: “The forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran attacked the bases and headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic party of Iran with missiles and drones.”
Iran said it was attacking terrorist bases, while the US described the strikes as brazen.
The attack occurred as the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, addressed the nation to express his regret over the death of Mahsa Amini a fortnight ago, but also to accuse the protesters of being agents of foreign powers.
“The enemy has targeted national unity and wants to pit people against each other,” the ultraconservative president said.
Raisi said Iran would not tolerate “chaos and riots” but also said that there could be “dialogue” on “different methods of applying the law” – a possible reference to Iran’s morality police’s strict enforcement of compulsory hijab.
It was the first time Raisi has directly addressed the street protests on national TV but his mention of dialogue is unlikely to assuage an assertive young generation of Iranians who have lost faith in the elderly clerical establishment – especially as it was the hardline president who ordered a stricter application of the hijab laws earlier this summer.
Activists in Iran, speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “Our confidence is growing. We are not backing down despite the arrests. It is very beautiful. There is a belief that something is going to change this time.”
Lawyers acting for Amini’s family have, in defiance of regime pressure, filed a formal complaint against those responsible for her arrest. They have demanded a detailed independent investigation into her death, including the manner of arrest and transfer to hospital, as well as photographs and videos of the arrest, and any brain scans.
Amini, now a symbol of resistance to the regime, died in police custody after she was picked up by the morality police in Tehran for not wearing a hijab properly.
The KPDI urged its supporters inside Iran to return to the streets, with its London spokesperson saying: “Support for these demonstrations is building. This started about one Kurdish woman and the wearing of the hijab, but it is now something wider in over 100 cities. The chant in the streets is: ‘Death to the regime. Death to the dictator.’”
Reports on the number of deaths amid the protests differ; the Oslo-based human rights group Iran Human Rights said the figure was at least 76, while Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency has put the toll at “around 60”, including several members of the Iranian security forces.
The regime will be desperate to ensure the protests do not extend to more working-class districts, and is likely to portray the protesters as anti-patriotic liberals at odds with the values of the regime.
Iran’s police said on Wednesday they would confront protests “with all their might”. However, the country’s minister for women’s affairs, Ensieh Khazali, said she had visited arrested women in jail and was seeking the release of those not guilty of major offences.
The UN said its secretary general, António Guterres, had called on Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” the UN chief’s spokeperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said.
Iran has shut down the internet to prevent protesters using social media to inform the outside world of the scale of the repression. Up to 20 reporters have been arrested, and newspapers are increasingly toeing the government line that the protests are being manipulated by Saudi Arabian or western media. Some papers are staging debates on whether the compulsory hijab is required by sharia law.
The regime has continued to claim the west’s response followed what it regarded as a successful performance by Raisi at the UN general assembly in New York. But the regime is being battered by the persistence of the demonstrations and the willingness of prominent Iranians, including musicians, actors, sports stars and academics, to demand the voice of young Iranians be respected.
Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, an award-winning actor, appeared without hijab to speak at the funeral ceremony of fellow actor Amin Tariokh. The Iranian football coach and former player Ali Karimi has also backed the demonstrations, as has the composer Hossein Alizadeh.
In Britain, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British Iranian dual-national who spent five years in an Iranian jail, cut her hair for BBC Persian cameras to show solidarity with the protests in Iran.
Companies said the continued shutdown of the internet was damaging business.
On Tuesday, authorities in Iran arrested the daughter of the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for “inciting rioters”, the Tasnim news agency reported. They have also been threatening celebrities and football stars who have supported the protesters.