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The Kurds of Iraq navigating uncertain political currents

April 30, 2009 Leave a comment

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The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq has recently made a statement condemning attacks by Kurdish militants within Iran. The Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), as this group is known, is an organization tied to the better known fighters operating for Kurdish independence in Turkey, the PKK.

The KRG has increasingly been careful to distance itself from its former allies the PKK and PJAK. Past cooperation included Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian Kurds supporting each other’s fights for security, autonomy, or independence in each country. Now that the Kurds of Iraq have a formal, internationally recognized regional government within Iraq, they are treading more carefully in order not to antagonize their large neighbours: Turkey and Iran. Of course, there are strong ties of kin and culture between the Kurds in all three countries.

Furthermore, the KRG doesn’t have the capacity to face resistance on multiple fronts. Its future is still uncertain, and every month is a new chapter in the ongoing history of this fragile regional government. The KRG has its hands full in an increasingly heated political battle with the Iraqi central government, as well as Arab tribal and municipal leaders in the north of the country.

Significant and economically vital portions of northern Iraq are contested by the KRG and the central Iraqi government both. This competition is not simply determining the future of Iraq’s provincial boundaries, but is also influencing the outcome of the very nature of the federal state.

The fulcrum appears to be the distribution of power between a centralized versus decentralized federation. The direction of movement on this question will help determine the degree of independence in the hands of the KRG. The topography on which these parties are currently battling are in the contested territories: most notably at oil rich Kirkuk, and also at the large city of Mosul.

Al Jazeera news clip on tensions in Mosul:

Roundup of Analysis: Turkey, the PKK, and Iraq

October 22, 2007 Leave a comment

Turkey’s Wise Hesitation. It is not merely statesmanlike restraint or responsiveness to U.S., European and Arab appeals that have so far prevented Turkey from launching a military invasion of northern Iraq. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his military commanders are also acutely aware that such an operation would play into the hands of the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, the insurgent group that is dug into the rugged, mountainous terrain along the Turkish-Iraqi border. Twelve Turkish soldiers were killed and eight others captured in a PKK ambush inside Turkey on Sunday; if there were an invasion, Ankara’s losses would be much higher, while the chances that PKK bases inside Iraq could be wiped out are small. Meanwhile, Turkey’s gains in integrating its ethnic Kurd population — a large part of which voted for Mr. Erdogan’s party in recent elections — could be nullified. What Turkey really wants is to pressure the United States and Iraq into taking action against the PKK. (Washington Post)

Turkey approaches its ‘finest hour’. With tension rising on the Turkish-Iraqi border over the weekend – Kurdish rebels killed 17 Turkish troops on Sunday – the region could be plunged into war in a matter of days. “Black Sunday” seems to show that key players – Talabani, Barazani and Zebari – and US president George W Bush – are simply not telling the truth. The Kurdish leaders insist, and so does the United States, that the PKK operates from northern Iraq on its own, with no mandate from either Kurdish decision-makers, the Iraqi government or the Bush White House. Speaking at a press conference with Barazani on Sunday, Talabani seemed to contradict himself, confirming his ties to the PKK by saying that all Turkish requests to arrest or extradite its leaders were “a dream that will never be fulfilled”. (Sami Moubayed, Asia Times)

US taking steps to avoid friendly fire in N. Iraq. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rica has requested three days from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to allow the withdrawal of US troops from northern Iraq to prevent a possible confrontation of Turkish and US troops in the event Turkey starts an incursion into northern Iraq to strike against bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization, a Turkish official said. (Today’s Zaman)

Talabani refuses to deliver PKK leaders to Turkey amid protests against incursion. “The handing over of PKK leaders to Turkey is a dream that will never be realized,” [Iraq’s President] Talabani, a Kurd, told a news conference in the northern province of Arbil, where he held an urgent meeting with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to discuss rising tension between Iraq and Turkey after the PKK killed 12 Turkish soldiers in an ambush in the early morning on Sunday near the Iraqi border. (Today’s Zaman)

Tactical and Strategic Factors in Turkey’s Offensive Against the PKK within Turkey. A Turkish military offensive in the ethnic-Kurdish provinces of southeastern Turkey began in mid-September. Turkey’s autumn campaigns against the militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) usually do not begin until October, but the current campaign is designed to reinforce Turkey’s position in negotiations with Iraq over the elimination of PKK bases in northern Iraq. The offensive also delivers a message to Turkey’s U.S. ally, which has been reluctant to move against PKK bases in Iraq. According to Turkish Land Forces Commander General Ilker Basbug, “the U.S. should understand and see that it is not time for words, but for action” (Today’s Zaman, September 25). Turkey’s armed forces, the Turk Silahli Kuvvetleri (TSK), have until the end of October (when winter weather sets in on the mountainous border region) to destroy or capture the 1,500-1,900 PKK militants believed to be in Turkey. (The Jamestown Foundation)

Turkey’s row with U.S. over Iraq may hit lira hard. The high-yielding lira has fallen 3.3 percent this week against the dollar from six-year highs due to the Iraq issue, but economists say it could drop much more if Turkey defies Washington and sends its forces across the border. (Reuters)

PKK Hides Behind a Unilateral Ceasefire and Shields Itself with Iraqi Kurdistan

October 22, 2007 Leave a comment

A political wing of the PKK today released a statement proposing conditional ceasefire with Turkey. The statement was released through the European based and sympathetic Kurdish media group, Firat News Agency.

The statement follows a series of attacks that have seen the death civilians and soldiers in Turkey. The latest attack killed 12 or more Turkish troops, while another 8 were taken prisoner. The PKK is unlikely to score such a victory again in the near future, and Turkey has yet to take military action against the PKK in northern Iraq. So, it’s not suprising that the PKK would suddenly want to unilaterally call for a ceasefire, and then likely accuse Turkey of aggression if and when it responds militarily.

The statement generally supports a pan-Kurdish or at least an Iraqi-Turkish zone of Kurdish nationality, and has been spun as a response that has come about due to the political insistence of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Presenting KRG dialogue with the PKK as a primary reasons for an offer of conditional surrender is likely designed to articulate cross-border Kurdish partnership between the PKK and the KRG. Evidence of this is shown in PKK promise to defend Iraqi Kurdistan in the event of a Turkish incursion. Their use of the term “our people” is ambiguous enough to be applied either to PKK members or to Iraqi Kurds. In this way, the PKK is trying to express their solidarity with the KRG, and so articulate their sense that an attack on the PKK bases in Iraq is also equivalent to an attack on the KRG itself. It’s easy for the PKK to make unilateral claims of unconditional solidarity with the KRG when they can only gain from such an arrangement.

The PKK also demands ethnic and cultural recognition of Kurds within Turkey, as well as demands for the Turkish state to more readily allow if not support Kurdish political representation in Turkey’s parliament, free of prejudice or harassment. The statement effectively demands that Turkish-Kurdistan have greater political and cultural autonomy, something that is strongly opposed by the Turkish governments ever since the fall of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War.

Effectively, the PKK is making conditions it doesn’t believe Turkey can support while trying to maneuver Turkey into a position of international isolation by daring it to allow Kurds to democratically choose their own political future while also identifying the PKK’s cause as one and the same with Iraq’s Kurds. The PKK hopes to ride the KRG’s political success, especially in the field of internationally popularizing the possibility of a viable Kurdish state.

PUK Media quotes the Kurdistani Community Organization’s statement:

We call for the simplest human rights of the Kurdish people, such as recognition of its Kurdish identity and allow it to enjoy exercising cultural and political work freely. Finding a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue in the region will be an important step towards the development of democracy and stability in the region. As an initiative from as to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey, we frequently declared unilateral cease-fires, but the response of successive Turkish governments and the Turkish army was by iron and fire ,operations , large and intense military campaigns in Kurdistan, involving thousands of military troops backed by all types of conventional weapons.

…What is taking place now of clashes in the area are the result of Turkish policies and thinking of denying Kurdish people issue in Turkey, and we believe the entry of some representatives to the Turkish Parliament is a great opportunity for the Turkish government to develop the dialogue and find a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish issue, but unfortunately, we have not seen so far by the government of the Justice and Development Party only indictments , threats to these representatives ,the arrest of some Kurdish mayors and putting them in jail only because they spoke in the Kurdish language. They have not been content with that, but merely issued a note to attack on the Iraqi Kurdistan region, while the Kurdistan region of Iraq has its official existence at the Iraqi and international levels, while the leaders of the region are only demanding political and peaceful solutions to the Kurdish issue.

…At the time, we declare our readiness to defend our people and its issue we stress that we always prefer a peaceful and democratic solution, through civilized methods, so we extend the hand of peace once again, we are ready to discuss the issue and to negotiate with others to solve this issue. Besides, we are asking the Turkish side to stop its military operations and do not interference in Kurdistan region of Iraq, if Turkey persisted in its hostility against the Kurdish people we will have to defend ourselves and our people.

Kurdish PKK Leader Murat Karayilan Interview

October 19, 2007 Leave a comment

Murat Karayilan is generally evasive and sticks to a script highlighting Turkish-U.S. split on the issue of a potential Turkish incursion into Northern Iraq in order to fight against PKK presence there. The U.S. Congress mulling over the recognition of a Turkish genocide of Armenians is brought up, while Murat Karayilan does not respond to the possibility that the Iraqi government may designate the PKK as a terrorist group and take tougher action against them.

The report is from Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Hoda Abdel-Hamid.

PKK and PJAK bases at Iraq’s Mount Qandil

October 18, 2007 1 comment

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.

The report is divided into Part 1 and Part 2.

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.

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