[Marxism] Kurdish contradictions
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 27 09:06:50 MDT 2006
LA Times, October 27, 2006
No easy answer to 'Kurdish question'
By Kim Murphy, Times Staff Writer
Driving north through these folded, wheat-colored mountains, it is easy to
forget you are in Iraq.
Miles to the south, the Iraqi flags disappear, replaced by the flags of
Kurdistan, a state that does not officially exist. Here in the northern
mountains, though, even the symbols of the Iraqi Kurdish authority are
nowhere to be seen.
Most of the flags here are those of the Kurdistan Workers Party the PKK,
listed by the U.S. and the European Union as a terrorist organization
responsible for the loss of thousands of lives in a separatist campaign
across the border in Turkey. Deep in the mountains, all the road
checkpoints are operated by PKK guerrillas. A giant portrait of imprisoned
guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan stretches across a rocky slope.
The fact that much of Iraq's rugged northern borderlands with Turkey and
Iran are under the day-to-day control of a militant organization might come
as a surprise to those who thought U.S. forces had handed over authority
nationwide to a new Iraqi government.
The PKK's guerrilla camps, ordered closed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri
Maliki last month, still dot some of the steep valleys and ravines near the
group's makeshift headquarters here; at least half the offices of its
political affiliate, the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party, also remain open.
The efforts to rein in the PKK are a new and strategically important front
in the Bush administration's campaign to create a new Middle East, and one
of the most complicated political problems U.S. forces face in Iraq.
Kurdish leaders, for instance, have battled the PKK over the years in
various intramural squabbles, but have been reluctant to clamp down on the
group because of its popularity among the Kurdish public and out of
sympathy for Kurds in Turkey.
Founded three decades ago as a violent Marxist resistance movement battling
for independence of Kurds in Turkey, the PKK began a concerted paramilitary
campaign in 1984. It since has mellowed its politics but still fields a
force of as many as 6,000 guerrillas along the Iraqi-Turkish border, with
about 1,000 of them well within Iraq, government officials estimate.
Within Turkey, violence connected with Kurdish separatists has escalated
this year. In August, a group calling itself the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons
claimed responsibility for several bomb attacks aimed at tourists that
killed three people and injured dozens in Turkish coastal resorts. The
group is widely believed to be an urban guerrilla offshoot of the PKK. The
PKK has concentrated on attacking Turkish soldiers, using bases in northern
Iraq as sanctuaries, according to the Turkish government.
In northern Iraq, the PKK militants get training in Shakespeare and Goethe,
in the military tactics of the Thirty Years' War and how to operate a
Russian-made BKC machine gun and a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher.
"We are here for one reason, and that is to obtain the objective of the
freedom of our people of Kurdistan," said a doe-eyed young guerrilla who
gave her name only as Ozgur and said she joined the movement when she was 13.
America's Kurdish dilemma stems from the fact that more than 20 million
Kurds straddle the strategic borders of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
Iraq's roughly 4 million Kurds are arguably the United States' strongest
allies in the war-torn nation, and U.S. forces would almost surely face a
political backlash in Baghdad if they took military action against
guerrilla fighters many Kurds see as heroes.
Yet the Kurdish guerrilla force here is battling one of America's bedrock
allies in the region Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization and a stable, secular Muslim state in a region trending in
other directions. The continuing failure to end PKK violence coming out of
Iraq has driven Turkey toward a stronger security arrangement with Iran,
which also faces militant Kurds along the Iraqi border, a relationship that
can't help but be worrying for Washington.
"How important is the PKK as an issue? Let me tell you that it's important
enough that the president of the United States decided that we needed a
special envoy to counter the PKK and to try to get all of our efforts in
the United States focused in the right direction, along with those of
Turkey and Iraq," retired Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, recently appointed the
U.S. special envoy to counter the PKK, said after a visit to the region
late last month.
"We all believe that the use of force is the last resort, not the first
resort," he said. "But having said that, that does not mean that we will
not take military action. Quite the contrary: All options are on the table."
The continuing polarization of Iraq and the mounting sectarian violence
there have only exacerbated worries among its neighbors about
reverberations within the substantial Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Iran
Iraqi Kurdistan has moved steadily to distance itself from the violent
skirmishing between Sunni and Shiite Arabs to the south; regional President
Massoud Barzani's recent order to pull down the Iraqi flag on public
buildings and replace it with the Kurdish flag is only one in a long line
of moves to establish a truly autonomous Kurdish republic. Here in the
north, there are Kurdish schools, Kurdish broadcast channels, Kurdish
cellphone companies and a full-fledged Kurdish regional government.
Militant groups such as the PKK are demanding an end to repression of Kurds
elsewhere, recognition of their national status and language and eventually
some degree of political autonomy measures that government leaders fear
will open the door to demands for a Kurdish state, discarding the borders
of four nations, a recipe for regional war.
That is why solving "the Kurdish question" has become a top priority for
the U.S., and why tackling the PKK, its most militant face, has become step
After Ralston's visit to the region, Iraqi leaders persuaded the PKK to
declare a unilateral cease-fire, an end to the regular cross-border attacks
that are claiming the lives of Turkish soldiers on a regular basis.
The PKK agreed, its leaders hoping the expression of goodwill could open
the door to significant movement on Turkey's part, starting with an end to
what it sees as human rights abuses, recognition of the Kurdish language
and possibly amnesty for some PKK fighters who have not been involved in
"I would like to say that the cease-fire has not been announced because of
pressure at all," Cemil Bayak, a longtime leader of the group's most
militant wing and a member of its ruling council, said in an interview over
a lunch of grilled chicken and steaming vegetable stew at his mountain redoubt.
"The most important reason is that we want the Kurdish question to be
solved peacefully, politically and by means of dialogue. This is what we
want," said Bayak, who believed Turkey's bid to join the European Union
would provide the impetus for human rights improvements needed to alleviate
repression of the nation's Kurds. "We want violence to be put aside, and a
new era to be opened on the issue."
But although the PKK has pledged to end its attacks on Turkish military
targets, it is unclear whether the cease-fire will be embraced by other
Kurdish militants, including the Falcons.
Turkish officials say the PKK is a terrorist organization that finances its
activities through an international network of drug smuggling and human
trafficking that reaches to Europe. Turkey is demanding the use of military
force to disarm the PKK, but Iraq so far has refused, said Kosrat Rasoul
Ali, vice president of the Kurdish regional government and a well-known
former Kurdish peshmerga fighter.
"They want us to attack the PKK, they want us to crack down on the PKK,"
Ali said. "But it cannot be done. In the past we tried, but it was without
"We think that this problem cannot be solved with force," he said. "Because
they are Kurds. It's very difficult for us Kurds to kill Kurds. In fact, it
Ralston has refused to meet with PKK leaders, declaring, "We do not meet
with terrorist groups." But Ali said Kurdish leaders hoped to broker a
solution in which the PKK would disarm in exchange for guarantees on behalf
of Kurds in Turkey.
"PKK is ready to hand over their weapons to the Americans, in return for
several political steps by Turkey," Ali said. "Like a general amnesty to be
published, to recognize Kurdish existence as a people in Turkey."
At the same time, some Iraqi officials believe Turkey and possibly Iran are
behind some of the escalating violence in northern Iraq, especially in the
city of Kirkuk, an oil center that Kurds hope to include within their
federated republic, whose inclusion could form the basis for a powerful
future Kurdistan economy.
In a pointed warning, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said last
month that Iraq was prepared to support opposition groups within
neighboring nations whose governments it saw as instigating violence in Iraq.
Recognizing that America's prime aim is to discourage the growing closeness
of Turkey and Iran at a time when the U.S. is seeking to isolate Tehran,
PKK leaders are arguing that solving the Kurdish question the main issue
that Turkey and Iran have in common is the best way to accomplish that goal.
"If you cannot solve the Kurdish problem in Turkey, you cannot separate
Turkey from Syria and Iran," Bayak said.
"And so without putting Turkey and the Kurds together, you cannot have the
fundamental basis for this project of a new Middle East."
kim.murphy at latimes.com
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