August 25, 2006

Burning the Qandil at both ends

By Ilnur Cevik

Kurdish leaders say they are under intense pressure from Ankara and Washington to act against the PKK holed up in the Qandil Mountains, but at this stage, there is little they can do apart from symbolic gestures.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders feel the presence of PKK militants in their mountains in the areas bordering Turkey and Iraq is a serious problem for them but feel any attempts to dislodge the terrorists will create more severe problems for their federal region and are not prepared to take that risk. Kurdish leaders who spoke to The New Anatolian on condition of anonymity said that they are under intense pressure from Ankara and Washington to act against the PKK holed up in the Qandil Mountains.

They said they have discussed the issue with American and British officials in Erbil as well as in Washington and London, but at this stage there is little they can do besides making some gestures like closing down the offices of “some” pro-PKK establishments. The offices of a pro-PKK party was closed down in Erbil and its leader was taken into custody. However, soon after the leader was released. Offices of other pro-PKK establishments in Baghdad were also closed down but both Kurdish and Turkish officials agree that these are rather superficial gestures.

What Turkey wants is for the Americans and the Iraqi Kurds to launch an offensive against the PKK militants in the Kandil Mountains. Americans say they do not have any troops to be earmarked for such an operation when they are already overstretched all over Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds say such an operation would be a waste of time.

“In the past, we launched several military operations with Turkey in these mountains but PKK is still there. We could not dislodge them; we cannot do it now,” Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, told The New Anatolian in a previous interview.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders feel that if they launch a military operation against the PKK this could create havoc in their own region.

An Iraqi Kurdish leader, who asked not to be named, told The New Anatolian: “We do not want to plunge our own region into violence like the terrible situation experienced in the rest of Iraq. We have created a stable and safe region and we do not want to jeopardize this for anything. We fear such an offensive on the PKK could spark violent incidents inside our own territory.”

Another issue of importance is the general mood of the Iraqi Kurdish people. In the past, before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, they regarded the PKK as a terrorist organization because the militants attacked several Kurdish villages killing people. They approved the fight against the PKK. So Turkey could secure the cooperation of the Kurdistan Democracy Party (KDP) of Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the fight against the PKK. But after the capture of Abdullah Ocalan by Turkey, the PKK has not been involved in terrorist attacks inside northern Iraq and people have started regarding the PKK as a harmless band of people who are struggling against Turkey.

So today we frequently hear arguments that “a Kurd would not capture a Kurd and give him or her to Turkey.” But Turkey is demanding the capture and extradition of PKK leaders. Another area of discord is the growing rift between Ankara and the Kurdish leaders. There is little direct dialogue between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurdish leaders, yet Ankara has twice invited a Shiite Iraqi prime minister to Turkey in the past six months; it has not invited Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to Ankara once in the past four years.

This is seen as the reluctance of Turkish leaders to be seen with a Kurd even if he is the president of Iraq. Iraqi Kurds also see Turkey applying undeclared economic sanctions on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that has created serious shortages of all vital commodities in the region. They feel Ankara is doing this to prod the Kurds into action against the PKK. But it is clear that as long as there is no meaningful and direct dialogue between the Iraqi Kurds and Ankara the current tensions will only increase and Turkish leaders will continue to be frustrated over the PKK presence in Iraq.

Printed with permission. From Soma