Villagers complain that the Iranian security measures have made travel harder for locals living in the border areas.

“In previous years, we used to go to the other side of the border to collect natural herbs, fruit and vegetables, or we took our herds for pasturing,” said a local resident in the border village of Shene in Sulaimani. “But now, military outposts have been built over the mountains that prevent us from going,” he added.

Locals say that the Iranians have advanced 10 kilometers deeper than in previous years to create a buffer zone with the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), which launched military operations against Iranian troops, until a 2011 truce brokered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

“Before 2003, Iran totally withdrew from the border areas and there was no any military fortress. But after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iran gradually started constructing and expanding its military outposts on the border, and PJAK-Iran clashes expedited the process of outpost building on the frontiers,” said another village.

Livestock, farming and — more importantly — smuggling goods between the Kurdistan Region and Iran have been the main sources of income for villagers living on both sides of the border. In recent years, tens of smugglers and several shepherds have been shot dead or wounded by  Iranian border guards for trespassing.

Divided by the greater powers after World War I, Kurds continue to sustain strong family and ethnic relations with their ethnic brethren on the other sides of the border. The loose but natural mountain borders have also helped keep such connections. However, the locals fear that the strong Iranian security measures could discourage the ties between Kurds on both sides of the border.

“My sister lives in Lolan village (on the Iranian side) only one kilometer away from ours, but she can’t visit us sometimes for six months,” said one local. “A few years ago, this was not the case. Social relations were very strong we could go there and they could come to visit us,” he added. “We could travel as we liked. But now, they (Iranian border guards) don’t allow us.”

Over the past several years, Iran has constructed more than 20 military outposts, and continues to build more, aimed at protecting its borders from potential infiltration by the Iranian Kurdish parties, in particular PJAK.

According to Rudaw sources, Iranian troops had advanced toward the Kurdistan side of the border for some time, but have now retreated behind their own borderline.