PKK and PJAK bases at Iraq’s Mount Qandil
James Brandon has written an analysis of PKK (fighting for Kurdish independent in Turkey) and PJAK (for Kurdish independence in Iran) militants bases at Mount Qandil after personally visiting the area. The report helps provide background on the tactical difficulties, including an easily defensible terrain, that a possible Turkish incursion would have to overcome.
Below is an excerpt, originally published by the Jamestown Foundation:
Any Turkish attack would focus on the PKK’s main base, or series of camps, in the foothills of Mount Qandil (or Kandeel), a 3,500 meter mountain that straddles the Iranian border some 100 kilometers from the Turkish frontier. Mount Qandil is located on the Iranian border. The area controlled by the PKK is on the mountain’s western and southern side where a series of winding valleys fan out toward Lake Dukan. The PKK controls an approximately 50 square kilometer area that also contains around a dozen Kurdish villages. The mountain’s sprawling 3,500 meter high summit, a jumble of interlocking peaks and plateaus, is snow-covered for much of the year. The bulk of Mount Qandil itself is in Iranian territory. The southern slopes of Mount Qandil, within PKK-held territory, are largely occupied by PJAK. A four mile-wide sparsely wooded valley separates the PJAK camps from several small Iranian military bases sited on mountain-tops facing Qandil.
…Senior Iraqi Kurdish politicians aim to retain their popular support while remaining on good terms with the United States, Arab Iraqis, Turkey and Iran. The PKK are an increasingly important and challenging factor in this equation. Publicly, Kurdish leaders distance themselves from the PKK and periodically take symbolic action against them. In August 2006, for example, the PUK closed the Suleimaniyah offices of the PKK-linked Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (Zaman, August 27). The PKK, however, are popular among ordinary Iraqi Kurds who cooperate with them extensively around Qandil. The enduring presence of Qandil in Patriotic Union of Kurdistan territory strengthens Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s pan-Kurdish credentials—something that Massoud Barzani perhaps aimed to copy by aiding Osman Ocalan.
Iraqi Kurds, however, are largely unwilling to sacrifice their own independence or prosperity for the sake of Turkey’s Kurds. Likewise, Iraqi Kurds do not bear a particular grudge toward Turkey, whose policies have deliberately helped Iraqi Kurdistan to flourish economically and politically. At the same time, however, in the event of a large scale Turkish offensive, Iraqi Kurds would likely be happy to help PKK members come down from Mount Qandil and blend into the local population—thus nullifying any Turkish military action.