PKK expands presence in Iraq —and Iran?

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the resurgent Kurdish guerilla movement in eastern Turkey and long-standing offical State Department-designated “foreign terrorist organization,” is apparently building a visible presence in northern Iraq, and is even said to be establishing a foothold in Iran.

Turkish nationalist politicans have reacted angrily to the opening of a PKK office in Kirkuk, which is said to be flying the flag of the guerilla organization. Mehmet Agar of the True Path Party (DYP) called nearly explicitly for unilateral Turkish military intervention in Iraq: “In a globalized world, with an expression inspired by the great Ataturk, the field of defense has now become the entire region. No sensible person can abandon the security of the country to the fine-tuning policies of his friends.” (Turkish Weekly, Aug. 6) Kirkuk lies outside the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq, but the city’s Arab and Turkmen residents fear the Kurdish parties seek to annex it and establish it as their regional capital. (See WW4 Report #96)

In a statement last month, the PKK threatened to turn northern Iraq into a “quagmire” for the Turkish army if it launches cross-border operations to rout guerrilla camps there. The statement followed warnings by Ankara that it would consider military incursions to hunt down the PKK in northern Iraq. “We are prepared for a possible attack… We will make it fail and turn [northern Iraq] into a quagmire for the forces that will carry it out,” said the statement, published on the Internet site of the Germany-based MHA news agency, which is said to be close to the guerilla movement. (AFP, July 20, via KurdishMedia)

Iraqi Internal Minister Bayan Jabr, on a visit to Istanbul in July, insisted that any Turkish cross-border operations would have to receive prior approval of the Iraqi Parliament. Jabr told Turkey’s NTV: “We are ready for cooperation against the Kurdish Workers’ Party or any other terrorist organization. We need to help each other on the issue. However, there is a government and parliament elected in Iraq. [Turkey] is bound to the parliament’s decision.” Jabr also noted that Kurdish peshmerga (militia) have control over the Turkish border. (Zaman Online, July 19)

Meanwhile, Iran’s Interior Ministry has blamed the PKK for a July 26 ambush on an army patrol near the northwestern town of Oshnoviyeh, which left four soldiers dead. A civilian woman caught in the crossfire and one of the assailants were also killed, authorities said. “It was terrorists from the PKK who carried out the ambush,” ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said, adding that the Iranian soldiers who died were “martyred.” The spokesman gave no further details, and did not elaborate on why the PKK was held responsible rather than Iran-based Kurdish rebel groups such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran and Komaleh.

Local officials told the press a slightly different story. “The attack was probably carried out by the Pejak, Party for a Free Life in Iranian Kurdistan,” said provincial deputy governot Abbas Khorshidi. “The Pejak has appeared over the last year or two in northern Iranian areas with a strong Kurdish community.” Local reports have also linked the relatively unknown Pejak group to the PKK.

Tehran and Ankara are linked by an accord calling for cooperation to combat the PKK and the People’s Mujahedeen, an armed Iranian opposition group based in Iraq. But Turkey has accused Iran recently of not doing enough to secure the border.

Khorshidi said the tensions could be linked to recent events in the nearby Kurdish city of Mahabad where a young Kurdish man was shot and killed by police in July. Subsequent clashes between residents and police left one police officer dead and resulted in dozens of arrests.

“If regional security is upset and there is disorder, we will act very strongly against troublemakers,” Khorshidi warned.

Mahabad is located in West Azerbaijan province, and was established in 1946 as the capital of the first and only Kurdish state in history. However, the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was put down later the same year. (IranMania, July 28)

See our last posts on Kurdish unrest in Turkey, Iran and Syria.

See also our last post on Iraq.