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Iraq protests to Iran over shelling in northern Kurdistan region

HAJ OMRAN, Iraq (AP) — Iraq said Monday it has protested to Iran over what it called an improper use of force in the northern Kurdistan region, a reference to repeated shelling there.

Iranian troops have been shelling the region for at least 12 days in pursuit of Kurdish rebels, according to Lt. Saleh Ahmed of the Kurdish security forces. He said Iranian artillery killed a 14-year-old girl and wounded three villagers on May 30. Iranian troops with artillery and tanks crossed the Iraqi border last Thursday and began building an outpost and a road leading back into the Iranian side of the border, he said.

The area around the mountainous border is disputed territory between the two countries.

Deputy Iraqi Foreign Minister Labeed Abawi told The Associated Press he summoned the Iranian ambassador to complain about shelling in the Kurdish region, which enjoys considerable autonomy from the rest of Iraq.

Iraq and Iran are uneasy neighbors, and military incursions by either nation represents a challenge to the other's sovereignty. In December, Iranian forces seized a southern Iraqi oil well that lies in disputed territory, increasing tensions.

Calls to Iranian officials for comment were not returned Monday.

Local Kurdish official Karawan Aref said the incursion took place near Haj Omran, a mountainous Kurdish resort town on the border with Iran. The area has for years seen sporadic clashes between Iranian forces and a Kurdish rebel group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PEJAK.

Troops seen Monday wearing Iranian uniforms were digging roads through the border crossing at Perdanuz, apparently to connect an outpost on the Iranian side with a new one being built in Haj Omran. The soldiers also hauled concrete, bricks and other material from the Iranian side to build a position to protect themselves from the PEJAK, Aref said.

He said Kurdish officials have asked Iraq's government in Baghdad for help but "we haven't heard back from central government yet."

Sharif Mohammed, a tomato farmer in Haj Omran, said his 8-year old son was injured in a shelling attack this week.

"If Iran feels it can shell my small tomato farm, then it will stop at nothing to shell the parliament buildings in Baghdad," said Mohammed said.