Iraqi Kurdistan Braced for Turkish Attack

Kurdish fighters in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan say they will resist a Turkish invasion of the region.

Iraqi Kurdistan Braced for Turkish Attack

Kurdish fighters in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan say they will resist a Turkish invasion of the region.

Kurdish fighters deep in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan say they are prepared to fight Turkey if it invades northern Iraq to flush out PKK guerrillas.

General Jabbar Yawar, spokesman of the General Command of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Border Guard Force, said that Kurdish forces will fight Turkey if it enters Iraq.

"We have a strong force in Kurdistan, and we have been able to protect the security of Kurdistan for years,” he said. “We will not stay out of the way of the Turkish army. We will resist."

The general argued that Turkey was using its conflict with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, PKK, as a pretext for a military incursion into the region of northern Iraq which enjoys self-rule.

"Turkey has not been able to accept this region up to now,” maintained Yawar.

The PKK is facing one of its most serious challenges from Turkey since setting up bases in the Qandil mountain area of Kurdish northern Iraq in 1982.

Turkey is threatening to invade following weeks of fierce battles over the Iraqi-Turkish border between PKK rebels and Turkish forces, in which dozens have been killed on both sides.

Ankara accuses the US and the Iraqi governments of not doing enough to stop the PKK, which was founded in Turkey, from conducting cross-border attacks.

Washington, which is an ally of Turkey, is leading diplomatic efforts to prevent a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice held high-level talks with Turkish leaders on November 2

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to meet US president George W Bush on November 5, and Turkish officials have said the country will decide whether it will send troops into Iraq after the meeting.

While US and Turkey consider the PKK to be a terrorist organisation, the party and its supporters say that it fights for Kurdish rights.

Although US and Iraqi officials have pledged to crack down on the party in recent meetings with Turkish officials, Iraqi Kurdish leaders and PKK fighters say its bases in the rugged Qandil mountain range are impossible to access.

The Qandil mountain range is about 3,500 metres high and about 1,500 square kilometres, lying between Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

The terrain is known in Iraqi Kurdistan as “Iraq’s Tora Bora”, a reference to the mountainous area of Afghanistan where al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters are thought to be hiding.

The PKK controls the towns below the mountains, and it is necessary to walk - and sometimes even crawl - up steep terrain to reach the party’s bases.

Guerrillas have also built trenches and tunnels throughout the mountain range, which is blanketed by snow in the winter.

Abdularahman Chadirchy, a member of the PKK’s command board, said that because of the harsh conditions, he does not believe that Turkey will launch a wide ground attack on PKK bases, despite reports that Turkey has sent 100,000 troops to the border.

"If Turkey attacks Qandil, it will be by air," he said.

Fuad Hussein, chief of staff for the KRG, told IWPR that Iraqi Kurdistan’s Peshmarga military forces are not able to drive out the PKK from such impenetrable terrain.

"Turkey is asking the Kurdistan region for something that is beyond our ability," said Hussein, who has called on the PKK to stop attacking the Turkish military and “giving them the pretext to come into the Kurdish region”.

He also noted that rooting out the PKK would leave the mountain range open to Islamic extremists, such as Ansar al-Islam, the Kurdish-affiliated al-Qaeda group.

Nowruz Jarand, a member of the PKK Leadership Council, confirmed that the group had fought Ansar al-Islam in the mountains.

She also said that the PKK continues to hold eight Turkish soldiers as prisoners of war, since they were captured during clashes in late October. Jarand said the troops were with the PKK inside Turkey and invited the International Committee for the Red Cross to visit them.

While the KRG condemned the capture of the Turkish troops - and has called on the PKK to stop attacking Turkey - Iraqi Kurds tend to support the group, arguing that Turkey discriminates against its Kurdish population.

Many are also suspicious that Turkey wants to limit the power of the KRG.

Saria Mustafa, 20, a Syrian Kurdish fighter with the PKK, who joined the rebels last year, said she is ready for a Turkish attack.

"They might reach Qandil,” she said while sipping a cup of tea after a military training, “but it will be over my dead body."

Frman Abdul-Rahman is an IWPR correspondent in Sulaimaniyah.

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