Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Iraq's Kurd Vow to Fight Turkish Troops

DERISHKIT, Iraq (AP) — Two Turkish jet fighters streaked across the mountain peaks near this border village Wednesday as part of an expanding military force gathered to pressure Kurdish rebels to abandon their hideouts in northern Iraq.

Residents claimed the planes were on a bombing run to hit a site about four miles inside Iraq, but could offer no details to back up their assertion. If true, however, the airstrike would mark a notable escalation of Turkish tactics against the Kurdish rebels.

The overflight came after three days of artillery shelling from inside Turkey at this area along the Zey-Gowra River, said Jalal Salman, the 45-year-old principal of the local school, and five other villagers.

Turkey's government has warned it will launch an offensive into northern Iraq if Iraqi authorities don't move against bases used by the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged a more than two-decade fight for autonomy in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

Officials in Iraq's Kurdish region say there are no PKK bases, at least in populated areas under government control.

Local officials said the Turkish artillery fire had mostly hit orchards, roads, mountainsides and, in one case, a tourist restaurant in a cave. So far there were no casualties in this area, they said.

Five other Derishkit residents joined Salman and gestured toward a Turkish military post on a hilltop in the neighboring town of Khani-Mase. An armored vehicle stood on the heights, its gun pointing down the slope. The post is one of five bases established inside this part of Iraq in the mid-1990s with Iraqi Kurd agreement as part of Turkey's war against PKK separatists.

Salman said villagers were not intimidated by the base's soldiers, who they said sometimes fired machine guns at people gathering firewood on the slopes below.

They also said they won't hesitate to wage war on Turkish troops if an invasion comes.

"There will be a guerrilla war, and we will take up arms," Salman said as the other men nodded in agreement. "What else can we do? They are bombing us. They are committing aggression."

Popular anger at Turkey seems to be growing in northern Iraq, along with quiet preparations for conflict. There have been large demonstrations in the region's major cities, and television reports on a Kurdish protest in Turkey's capital riveted viewers here.

According to a report in one Kurdish newspaper, people living near one of the largest Turkish bases in northern Iraq threatened to attack the post if the Turkish army continued to fire artillery at the area.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish regional government has moved in units of its Peshmerga Defense Forces from the region's south. More than 100 of the fighters arrived aboard white buses Tuesday morning in Dohuk, capital of the region.

Smaller units of Peshmerga mustered in mosques and schools near the border, which they usually avoid because of the risk of clashes with Turkish troops. Several convoys of white SUVs, evidently carrying high-ranking Peshmerga commanders, were seen traveling in the area.

Muhammed Mohsin, an official with northern Iraq's dominant Kurdish Democratic Party in the Amadiya border area, said more than 50 villages in his area had been bombarded by Turkish artillery in recent days but no casualties had been reported.

Mohsin, one of the most influential political figures in Amadiya, said residents and the Peshmerga have laid plans for fighting any Turkish incursion.

"Our tactic is partisan fighting, a partisan conflict," he said. "If they attack, we are going to launch a partisan war against them."

Mohsin insisted there are no PKK camps in the Amadiya area.

But he also said dozens or hundreds of villages near the border had been evacuated and burned during Saddam Hussein campaign against Kurds and most remained empty. The Kurdish regional government has no control over this "no man's land," he said.

The area consists of range after range of arid mountains topped by sawtooth rocks, towering over narrow, twisting river valleys. "A million men could hide in those mountains," Mohsin said.

Many Iraqi Kurd officials suspect Turkey's real aim is to try to destabilize northern Iraq, the most peaceful part of the country, to discourage separatist sentiment among the millions of Kurds living in southeastern Turkey.

The PKK has been fighting against the Turkish government since 1984 in a war that has caused 30,000 deaths. While it previously demanded a separate Kurdish state in Turkey's southeast, it more recently has called for an autonomous region — similar to the region that the Kurds have in northern Iraq.

While the United States and Iraq's central government in Baghdad have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization, most Iraqi Kurds appear to regard its guerrillas as freedom fighters. They accuse the Turkish government of a long history of suppressing the Kurdish language and culture.

Many people here look to the United States to prevent Turkey from launching a major offensive into Iraq, some suggesting that Washington should respond with military force to any incursion.

"The U.S. is an occupying power," said Fahmi Salman, another regional Kurdistan Democratic Party official in Adamiya. "It is the duty of the United States to defend Kurdistan."

Salman said that even if the Americans don't help, the Kurds are prepared to defend their homes.

"The Kurds don't like war fighting," he said. "But if this happens, it will be a popular war. It will be against the people, and the people will fight."


I hate to say it, but I support the Kurds.

Down with America!!


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