Kurdish rebels vow to retaliate if Turkey strikes northern Iraqi bases

Sunday, November 4, 2007
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party held anti-racism banners and chanted slogans Saturday during a protest against a possible Turkish incursion to northern Iraq in the town of Silopi on the Turkish-Iraqi border. (Associated Press)

QANDIL MOUNTAINS, Iraq -- A defiant spokesman for the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party said Saturday that if Turkey attacks the group's bases in Iraq's rugged northeastern mountains, the clandestine organization's fighters "will teach the Turks an unforgettable lesson."

Sozdar Avesta, a member of the party's political bureau, said in an interview in Iraq's ungoverned border region that despite international pressure, the guerrilla group would not abandon its decades-long struggle against Turkey.

"We are fighting for the liberation of Kurdish people, we are fighting for our identity, language, our legitimate rights and self-determination," said Avesta, 35, one of a number of women PKK members.

The Turkish government has threatened to send troops into Iraq to chase the insurgent fighters, after a series of deadly clashes between the PKK and Turkish military in Turkey in recent months.

Officials fear that large-scale fighting in northern Iraq could destabilize the relatively peaceful north, and jeopardize gains that U.S. officials say have been made in the rest of the country.

Iraq's central government has pledged to track and arrest leaders of the PKK, and cut off supplies. But any crackdown would require the cooperation of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.

Turkey has accused Iraqi Kurdistan officials of backing the PKK, a charge that both the regional government and the guerrilla group deny.

Under intense political pressure from Baghdad and the U.S., Iraqi Kurdish officials Saturday closed the Irbil and Sulaimaniyah offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution party, alleged to have close ties to the PKK. The two cities are the largest in Iraq's northern Kurdish region.

Regional authorities have sought to prevent journalists from talking with the PKK leadership by closing roads into the Qandil Mountains, where various Kurdish rebel groups have historically sought shelter. But an AP reporter managed to meet PKK officials there late Friday.

In a compound in the mountains here, the PKK flew their banned flag and decorated their offices with portraits of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader arrested in Kenya in 1999. He is currently in a Turkish prison.

The compound was far from any village, but the rebels had satellite television, and generators provide electricity.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders say they are urging the PKK members to lay down their arms and seek a political settlement with Turkey. Avesta suggested that the guerrillas see little reason to negotiate with Ankara.

"Working to obtain rights under dictatorships without resorting to arms is a difficult and impossible matter," Avesta said.

She defended the PKK's assaults on Turkish forces, saying Ankara had a history of "detention and genocide campaigns against the Kurds. Therefore the PKK took up arms to defend itself."

And she warned that if Turkey launches attacks inside Iraq, the PKK will respond. "The PKK fighters will teach the Turks an unforgettable lesson," she vowed.

The United States and the European Union have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization. The group's tactics have included car bombings, suicide bombings and kidnappings.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Turkish officials Friday the PKK was a "common threat" and that the United States would help Ankara in its fight against them. Iraq promised Saturday at a conference with Rice and Turkey's foreign minister to work with its neighbors and the U.S. to combat the guerrillas.

Bozan Takeen, a senior member of the PKK, denied that PKK fighters use Iraqi territories to launch attacks inside Turkey, calling the allegations "baseless."

And he accused Ankara of trying to pit Kurd against Kurd.

"They want the two Kurdish political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan to attack us, but this will not happen," he said.

Takeen said the PKK isn't intimidated by the threat of an assault by Turkey, a member of NATO. The Turkish military reportedly has amassed 100,000 troops along the Turkey-Iraq border.

"Turkish attacks will strengthen our determination to struggle harder to gain our rights," Takeen said.

One PKK fighter, Madani Kurdistani, 20, said he joined the PKK six years ago when he was just 14. Turkish authorities in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, he said, are pressuring his family, hoping they will persuade him to turn himself in.

He refuses.

"I am fighting for the sake of people," he said, carrying a Kalashnikov assault rife. "Life without freedom is a meaningless one. We have to pay the price of the freedom."

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