Fighters Defy The World From Mountain Fortress As Bombing Begins
By Patrick Cockburn
in the Qandil mountains, Iraq
25 October, 2007
used its helicopters and artillery to attack Kurdish guerrillas inside
northern Iraq yesterday as the Turkish army massed just north of the
border. The helicopter gunships penetrated three miles into Iraqi territory
and warplanes targeted mountain paths used by rebels entering Turkey.
Guerrilla commanders of the
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were defiant in the face of an impending
invasion. In an interview high in the Qandil mountains, Bozan Tekin,
a PKK leader, said: "Even Alexander the Great couldn't bring this
region under his rule." The PKK has its headquarters in the Qandil
mountains, one of the world's great natural fortresses in the east of
Iraqi Kurdistan, stretching south from the south-east tip of Turkey
along the Iranian border. If Turkey, or anybody else, is to try to drive
the PKK out of northern Iraq they would have to capture this bastion
and it is unlikely they will succeed.
Despite threats of action
by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the PKK leaders give no
sense of feeling that their enemies were closing in.
For a guerrilla movement
awaiting assault, the PKK's leaders are surprisingly easy to find. We
drove east from Arbil for two-and-a-half hours and hired a four-wheel
drive car in the village of Sangassar. Iraqi police wearing camouflage
uniform were at work building a new outpost out of cement blocks beside
the road leading into the mountains but only took our names.
In fact the four-wheel drive
was hardly necessary because there is a military road constructed by
Saddam Hussein's army in the 1980s which zig-zags along the side of
a steep valley until it reaches the first PKK checkpoint. The PKK soldiers
with Kalashnikovs and two grenades pinned to the front of their uniform
were relaxed and efficient. In case anybody should have any doubt about
who was in control there was an enormous picture of the imprisoned PKK
leader Abdullah Ocalan picked out in yellow, black, white and red painted
stones on a hill half a mile away and visible over a wide area.
There were no sign that threats
from Mr Maliki in Baghdad or from the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani,
were having an effect. The PKK soldiers at a small guest house had not
been expecting us but promptly got in touch with their local headquarters.
For all its nonchalance the
PKK is facing a formidable array of enemies. The Iraqi government in
Baghdad has no direct influence over the Kurdistan Regional Government,
led by President Massoud Barzani whose administration is made up of
his own Kurdistan Democratic Party and President Talabani's Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan. This is the only force capable of trying to eject
the 3,000 PKK fighters.
So far the KRG shows no sign
of doing so. One reason is that, paradoxically, the Turkish government
will not talk to the KRG although it is the only Iraqi institution that
might help it – Ankara is fearful of the growing strength of the
KRG as a quasi-independent state on its borders.
So far the PKK is benefiting
substantially from the crisis which started this summer when it began
to make more attacks within Turkey. Instead of being politically marginalised
in its hidden valleys, it is suddenly at the centre of international
attention. This will help it try to rebuild its battered political base
within Turkey where it suffered defeat in the 1990s and where its leader
Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999.
Asked if the Turkish forces
could inflict damage on the PKK, one of its fighters, called Intikam,
said: "Three out of five of our fighters are hiding in the mountains
in Turkey and, if the Turkish army cannot find them there, it will hardly
find them in Iraq."
Bozan Tekin and Mizgin Amed,
a woman who is also a member of the leadership, hotly deny they are
"terrorists" and ask plaintively why there is not more attention
given to Kurds who have been killed by the Turkish army. They add that
they have been observing a ceasefire since since 1 October 2006 and
fight in retaliation for Turkish attacks.
"Since then the Turks
have launched 485 attacks on us," says Bozan Tekin. "Even
an animal – any living thing – will fight when it feels
it is in a dangerous situation," said Mizgin Amed. Both the PKK
leaders were chary of giving details of last Sunday's ambush in which
at least 16 Turkish soldiers were killed and eight captured. This is
because the ambush is a little difficult to square with their defensive
posture. But Bozan Tekin said that in reality "35 Turkish soldiers
were killed and only three PKK fighters were lightly wounded. We did
not lose anyone dead." He claimed that an attack on a minibus,
which Turkey blamed on the PKK, was in fact carried out by Turkish soldiers
on a Kurdish wedding party.
Overall, although it does
not say so openly, the PKK would welcome a Turkish military invasion
of northern Iraq because it would embroil Turkey with the Iraqi Kurds
and the Iraqi army. It would also pose almost no threat to the PKK.
© 2007 Independent News
and Media Limited
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