Ruffling feathers - Will Turkey invade northern Iraq?

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Ruffling feathers - Will Turkey invade northern Iraq?

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 17, 2007 3:16 pm

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Ruffling feathers - Will Turkey invade northern Iraq?
Key Points
Turkey's government is under pressure to attack rebel Kurdish bases in Iraq after the ruling party's election victory.

The Turkish military wants to launch an invasion to disrupt the Workers' Party of Kurdistan (Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan: PKK) before it can take advantage of growing disaffection within Turkey's Kurdish population.

The government will have to balance the military's ambitions against its relationship with the US, which will not want northern Iraq's stability harmed by a Turkish invasion.


The Turkish military is preparing for a potential offensive against Kurdish rebel bases in Iraq. Graeme Wood examines the country's options.

Turkey is once again undergoing preparations for a possible invasion of northern Iraq to disrupt the activities of the Workers' Party of Kurdistan (Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan: PKK). On 7 August, Iraqi and Turkish Prime Ministers Nouri al-Maliki and Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly work towards ending the PKK presence in Iraq. The decision followed Turkey's July general election, won by the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi: AKP), which saw the opposition parties, the Republican People's Party and the National Action Party, running on nationalist platforms.

Such a cross-border operation against the PKK would not be unprecendented. Turkish soldiers have been fighting the PKK in Iraqi Kurdish regions since the mid-1990s, usually just across the border from Turkey. Every few years the fight against the guerrilla movement reaches a minor crescendo, with the Turkish military weighing the option of swooping into the Kandil mountains to completely destroy the PKK's camps. Four significant incursions were launched in the 1990s and 2001.

So far, Turkish deployments inside Iraq have been modest. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani (nephew of KRG President Massoud Barzani) confirmed in early August that Turkish troops had already begun operating in Iraqi territory. However, their main activity has consisted of preparatory work on the Turkish side of the border, in particular the establishment of 'temporary security zones' in the border provinces of Hakkari, Siirt, and Sirnak. These zones involve tighter controls on civilian movement and could be a prelude to cross-border action.

As these zones and the election demonstrate, attacking the PKK camps is once again being considered seriously in Ankara. Perhaps the most significant reason for this is that the PKK's insurgency has shown surprising resilience by sustaining itself since ending its unilateral ceasefire in May 2004, and there are signs it has taken lethal new tactical turns. In addition, given the PKK's strategic reliance on static camps, the military is confident that it could deal a substantial blow to the organisation in a cross-border operation.

Domestic factors also provide a favourable climate for an invasion in 2007, particularly the ruling AKP's desire to demonstrate its Kemalist credentials. The party narrowly failed to win the two thirds of parliamentary seats necessary to act unilaterally in appointing a president, and so it needs to pander to nationalists such as the National Action Party. Also, a stand-off between the military and the government in May, when the armed forces all but threatened a coup if the AKP's preferred presidential candidate was appointed, demonstrated that the AKP must also take into account the military's wishes in its appointments and policies. An invasion to tackle the PKK is supported within the military and could be seen as a concession to the armed forces from the AKP.

There are, however, obstacles to an invasion. The reaction of Iraqi Kurds, the Iraqi government and the US may mitigate against a cross-border operation, although an agreement could be reached with all parties for limited military operations. Furthermore, Turkish Kurds, who gained the greatest parliamentary representation ever in the July elections by running as independents, could act as a restraint on the government if it requires Kurdish support in parliament.

Given these competing factors, the probability of a Turkish invasion of Iraq is not yet assured. Nonetheless, the Turkish military has pressed forward at the Iraqi border and sent in mine clearance and special forces teams. In August, in the run-up to the Maliki-Erdogan meeting, Iraqi Kurdish media reported intense Turkish shelling and a 1 km incursion into the KRG area in Iraq's Zakho district. These events and the discourse in Ankara suggest that the likelihood of an invasion is at its greatest since 2001. Even if it does not take place in 2007, it is likely to occur in 2008 or 2009.

The PKK
One of the primary reasons for invading northern Iraq would be to halt the PKK's increasing levels of violence. Attacks by the group ebbed in the early part of this decade, after the PKK called a ceasefire, but in the last few years they have resumed, mostly as ambushes and bombings aimed at military targets in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeastern region.

The conflict's intensity has not yet reached the levels of the 1990s, but it threatens to escalate. The tactic of choice during previous campaigns was light infantry operations, often against military installations or checkpoints. Now PKK guerrillas have begun to duplicate the success of Iraqi insurgents by planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the path of military vehicles. The PKK has carried out dozens of these attacks in the last year, to great effect, and expanding the roadside bombing campaign threatens to restrict the Turkish military's tactical mobility.

Furthermore, there are reasons for the Turkish military to believe that an operation would be successful. The PKK's Iraqi camps provide the Turkish military with static targets and greater concentrations of PKK guerrillas.

The PKK camps represent more than a decade of construction and the infrastructure is such that a sustained attack (a series of Iranian artillery attacks in 2006 lasted only two days at a time at most) by Turkey or anyone else would cripple its operations. Even small PKK camps have televisions and organised mess facilities, as well as libraries, computers and classrooms. Not all these assets are mobile, and so the Turkish air strikes that would likely precede a ground raid would gravely harm the PKK.

Admittedly, the PKK's camps are not as vulnerable as a year ago. After the heavy barrage of mortars and artillery rockets against PKK sites by the Iranian military in 2006, the PKK and the Kurdistan Free Life Party (Partiya Jiyana Azada Kurdistane: PJAK), its Iranian affiliate, were forced to move their bases from open territory to less concentrated and more easily defensible terrain. Former PKK bases that included huts and tents on relatively even ground have been abandoned in favour of burrows in mountain sides, which all but the most precisely aimed air strikes and indirect fire would fail to destroy.

In interviews with Western journalists during the first half of 2007, the PKK claimed their camps were now only political offices, rather than the guerrilla training facilities they once were, and that they have entirely transferred military operations to within Turkey's borders. It is possible, and even likely, that the guerrillas have scaled down their camps and spread out resources in preparation for a Turkish offensive.

However, the PKK is unlikely to have abandoned its camps completely. The group has given no indication that it can sustain a campaign without the strategic depth the camps provide. The Kandil facilities were instrumental in the PKK's regrouping after its expulsion from Syria and Lebanon in 1998. If the PKK gives up the camps permanently, it will have lost its most precious asset, and it can be sure that Iraqi Kurdish parties (who have long viewed the group as an annoyance) will not permit it to return.

A Turkish operation may not finish the PKK. The group's arsenal consists almost entirely of man-portable items such as Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-personnel mines. In the year since the camps were shelled by the Iranians, it is likely that these weapons have been even more widely dispersed in caches that can be recovered by PKK guerrillas resisting Turkish raids. Given this greater decentralisation, for a Turkish attack on PKK bases to have permanent effect it would have to be sustained over the course of months.

Nonetheless, even if the Turkish military does not aim to eradicate the PKK presence completely, its cross-border incursion would have a longer-term effect on the PKK than just displacing guerrillas. The decimation of its forces and permanent structures would force the PKK to re-arm, meaning material would have to be brought through Iranian, Turkish or Iraqi Kurdish land. All three of these borders are porous, but less so than they were several years ago. Turkish forces are more alert since the PKK ended its ceasefire and began attacking on Turkish soil in earnest, while Iran has gone from tacitly permitting PKK activity to hunting down and killing its members. The Iraqi Kurds are also less willing to be complicit in PKK arms trafficking as Turkish firms provide the capital for the KRG area's much-vaunted economic revival.

It is, therefore, not the availability of weapons that may cause a problem for the PKK, but the transport. Iraq is awash with small-arms, and US admissions in early August that nearly 190,000 small-arms are missing from military supplies to Iraqi security forces underline the prevalence of weapons in the country. However, from the 1990s to very recently, the PKK could equip its camps by bringing in four-wheel-drive vehicles into the Kandil range from Iraqi territory and by carrying loads in on foot from neighbouring countries. Now, replenishing a bombed out camp will be much more difficult, particularly if the Iraqi Kurds can be persuaded to cut them off or interdict their logistical train.

Turkey's Kurds
It is not just the PKK's activities and perceived vulnerability that are encouraging a military incursion into Iraq. The country is also aware of a growing threat from its resident Kurds, compelling it to intervene in Iraq sooner rather than later. In the past few years, Turkish Kurds have won expanded recognition for their minority status, including the right to broadcast limited Kurdish-language shows on radio and television. However, Turkey's legal Kurdish political parties have fared poorly at recent elections, winning too few votes to gain representation in parliament. They are balanced perilously between accepting the Turkish system on one hand and rejecting it, in the form of active or passive support for the PKK, on the other.

Until recently, many Kurds remained provisionally accepting of the Turkish political system. They pinned hopes on Turkey's courtship of the EU, which Ankara (and especially the AKP) hoped to join as a full member. Turkish Kurds expected the membership would require Turkey to extend full rights to Kurds and that Ankara would have to prevent significant repression of the Kurds to curry favour from the EU in accession and trade negotiations. However, now Turkey's EU negotiations are hopelessly muddled and the Kurds' hopes for greater recognition are deflating with each passing month.

The combination of declining interest in the EU and its attendant human rights issues and stalled progress on Kurdish rights recognition could create a fertile ground for an insurgency similar to that experienced in the 1990s, when the southeast of the country suffered from a medium-intensity war. The PKK has tried many tactics, but its most effective have been classic Maoist insurgency methods, which are predicated on hiding militants in a large, passively sympathetic population. The new Kurdish pessimism in Turkey threatens to metastasise into something bigger, and so the Turkish military is seeking ways to demolish the insurgents' capabilities pre-emptively before the PKK-sympathetic population expands.

Kurdish representation
Momentum for a Turkish invasion is also created by the domestic political situation in Turkey, particularly since the July elections. Support for Turkey's nationalist parties surged in the election, with the National Action Party winning seats on an uncompromising platform of military action against Kurdish rebels.

At the same time, the AKP has had to stave off challenges from the military. Following the AKP's nomination of Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül to the Turkish presidency in April, the military issued stern warnings to indicate that it viewed an Islamist such as Gül as inappropriate for the position. A veiled threat from the military on its website suggested a coup d'etat was a genuine possibility if the AKP proceeded with Gül's nomination.

When the nomination was blocked, the party seemed to retreat, indicating it would have to acquiesce to at least a few military demands, such as an invasion of northern Iraq.

The re-nomination of Gül in mid-August for the post of president once again opens the possibility that the government may appease the military with an invasion to prevent any further intervention in the political process.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan already gave ground by blocking several Islamist deputies from his own party from running in the July election in favour of candidates better known for their secular politics. This reinforced suspicions that the Turkish military was prepared to reassert itself and that the AKP would have to relent and let the military pursue some of its longtime interests, including oppressing Kurds.

Political restraints
With fears of a resurgent PKK and a potentially sympathetic Kurdish population fuelling nationalist policies among parliamentary parties, and with the military also arguing for an invasion of northern Iraq, an incursion appears an eminently plausible scenario. However, there are several restraints on any possible Turkish action.

First is the AKP itself. The party performed well across Turkey in the July elections but saw a doubling in support in the Kurdish regions, a reflection of the AKP's conciliatory tones toward the Kurds.

The AKP's mildly Islamist politics sit well with Kurds, who tend to be religious and traditional. Moreover, there are no major Kurdish political outlets for their faith as the primary Kurdish party is secular. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the AKP famously announced at a Diyarbakir rally in 2006 that the Kurds had legitimate grievances.

This relatively moderate policy towards the Kurds is strengthened by the fact that the Kurds have more parliamentary representation than they had before the July elections. The Democratic Society Party, the latest incarnation of previous banned Kurdish leftist Democratic People's and People's Democratic Parties, chose not to field candidates, but instead ran its candidates as independents. The successful candidates joined parliament singly rather than as a Kurdish-identified bloc.

The Kurds, therefore, now have 22 deputies, a vast improvement although this is still only four per cent of the total number of deputies. It is conceivable that this representation, albeit minor, and the AKP's Kurdish policy could act as a restraint on the government's willingness to invade.

Iraqi Kurds
In addition, Iraqi Kurds currently hinder, although they do not necessarily prevent, a Turkish invasion. Iraqi Kurdish co-operation is vital for Turkey as no attempt to isolate and starve the PKK's mountain headquarters can succeed without the co-operation of the Iraqi Kurdish parties, or at least the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), whose territory immediately abuts the southern flank of the Kandil range.

However, Iraqi Kurdish politicians, who have laboured to maintain cordial relations with Ankara, oppose military invasion by Turkey. The PKK has made clear that it shares the near-universal Iraqi Kurdish desire for an internationally recognised Kurdish homeland, and so the Iraqi Kurds are reluctant to allow non-Kurds, especially Turks, who have been notorious for oppressing Kurds since the earliest days of the Turkish republic, to violate their territory and kill their Kurdish kin.

Iraqi Kurdish parties, although eager to appease the Turks, have to be careful not to alienate their citizens, who in many cases doubt their leaders' commitment to pan-Kurdish goals. Ordinary Kurds have expressed growing frustration with the two ruling parties' nepotism, corruption and suppression of dissent.

While the vast majority of Iraqi Kurds recognise a need for unity, they also recognise that the KRG is still divided between its PUK and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) elements. The two parties fought a bitter, bloody and protracted war that ended only in the late 1990s, and the memories of these divisions are still fresh. Many Iraqi Kurds complain that the two parties' reconciliation has advanced the interests of their leaders' families more than those of Iraqi Kurds as a whole. With suspicion rife, co-operation by Iraqi Kurdish leaders with the Turkish military could be a potentially politically fatal blow to the credibility of PUK chief Jalal Talabani and KDP leader Massoud Barzani.

This is not to say such co-operation is unfeasible. The PKK has quarrelled with Iraqi Kurds before - sometimes violently. Barzani's KDP, which still benefits from the Ibrahim Khalil border post with Turkey as a major source of revenue, spent years fighting the PKK at the behest of the Turks. The KDP would punish and even kill Iraqi Kurds who helped the PKK, even under duress. Moreover, Iraqi Kurdish parties have in the past had to rely on Turkey as an economic lifeline. In exchange for making operations difficult for the PKK, the Iraqi Kurds received cash and a promise not to violate Iraqi Kurdish sovereignty too severely. This balance relied in part on the Iraqi Kurds' omnipresent backer, the US, which guaranteed that the Turks could not overrun the KRG area. Now that balance has shifted: the US no longer supports Iraqi Kurdish parties reflexively and the Kurds are having to look elsewhere to make trade-offs.

With the Iraqi Kurds against a Turkish invasion of the KRG area but eager to remain in Ankara's favour, a potential compromise could be found, such as permitting only limited operations by the Turkish military against the PKK. This could involve a robust bombing campaign to destroy the group's infrastructure, but no lingering Turkish ground presence.

The US role
This position may be acceptable for the Iraqi Kurds, but one further potential obstacle remains: the US. Washington is not eager for a unilateral Turkish invasion, with the attendant risks to the KRG given the relative success of the Iraqi Kurdish government in the north of the country. US politicians, such as Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have suggested withdrawing US forces from Arab parts of Iraq to the KRG area as the value of the security and integrity of that region has become considerable.

Moreover, as the Arab insurgency in Iraq has escalated, the PKK has become a secondary issue for the US, much to the Turks' dismay. The PKK may have further undermined US enthusiasm for a difficult counter-insurgent operation by sponsoring attacks against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards and presenting itself as a potential strategic ally against Tehran.

Nonetheless, the US, much like the Iraqi Kurds, may prevent a full Turkish invasion, but could be persuaded of the benefits of limited Turkish military action. In late July, Washington Post columnist Robert Novak reported that US Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman had allegedly briefed select congressmen about secret plans for joint anti-PKK operations with the Turks. Novak reported that the US role would be concealed, allowing the US to deny to the Iraqi Kurdish people (if not their leaders) that they had assisted a Turkish operation against Kurds. The benefits for Washington, namely disruption of a proscribed terrorist organisation, appeasement of a regional ally and prevention of a destabilising large-scale invasion, makes this an attractive option.

Forecast
The possibility of military operations against the PKK in the Kandil mountains is significant. The Turkish military is eager for the fight and it has good reason to believe well-placed air strikes will destroy guerrilla assets - not enough to end the military movement, but certainly enough to set it back years. For more than a year, the PKK campaign in southeastern Turkey has sustained itself and showed no signs of abating. The Turkish military will refuse to watch it profit from a haven in northern Iraq where the guerillas can learn to make roadside bombs with comfort and impunity. Politically, the domestic forces that might encourage the PKK show no sign of letting up, and the nationalist-Kemalist politicians and military leaders favouring intervention in Iraq are in a position to ask indulgence from the AKP leadership. While the AKP and Kurdish parliamentary representation is a limiting factor, they are currently not strong enough to outweigh the more substantial pro-incursion group.

Turkey may yet be dissuaded from intervention should Baghdad or the KRG persuade Ankara that the PKK will be handled by a domestic counter-insurgency operation. However, this seems unlikely as the central Iraqi government is more concerned with Sunni and Shia militancy, and the KRG has proven unwilling to undertake unilateral operations against a Kurdish organisation.

The question is, therefore, not whether Turkey would countenance military action, but whether Turkey is able to persuade the US and Iraqi Kurds of the benefits, what form the intervention takes and when such action might occur. Neither Washington nor the KRG are likely to support a large-scale invasion, but could be persuaded that air strikes and special forces operations in the Kandil mountains are beneficial. In such a scenario, winter may prove the most suitable time as it will be easier to identify and target PKK living areas, while troops will benefit from tracking in the snow.

However, should Turkey not persuade its allies that such operations should go ahead, then the possibility of a Turkish invasion in 2008 grows. While opprobrium from Turkey's allies would be unwelcome in such a scenario, Ankara will not sit idly while the PKK insurgency gathers pace after early 2008 and will, therefore, risk damaging its relations with the KRG, the US and Iraq to disrupt the PKK. n

The Kandil mountains
The PKK began fighting the Turkish republic in 1984, when Abdullah Öcalan declared his intention to establish a Marxist Kurdish state, by violence if necessary. Öcalan's organisation from the beginning sought bases and support abroad: in the 1980s and early 1990s it found a home in Damascus and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. However, by the mid-1990s, after Öcalan's ignominious capture in Nairobi, the headquarters moved to the Kandil mountains of northern Iraq. That period marked some of the most intense fighting between PKK guerrillas and the Turkish military. Since then, military commanders, including current military chief Murat Karayilan, have trained thousands of fighters to slip across the rugged border and blend into a sympathetic populace.

The guerrilla campaign has cost the Turkish army dearly, both in lives (nearly 5,000 soldiers have died) and resources (hundreds of thousands of troops are in a permanent state of mobilisation). In the late 1990s, and in smaller operations since then, the army shelled PKK positions in northern Iraq in an attempt to destroy its camps. The attacks proved both a public relations problem, since apolitical Kurdish villagers were killed, and a military failure as they did not annihilate the PKK.
Last edited by seemslikeadream on Mon Aug 20, 2007 5:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 17, 2007 3:22 pm

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
Key Facts
Threat Assessment
Targets, tactics and methodology
Personnel and recruitment
Area of operation
Operational preparedness
Limiting factors
External Assistance
Funding
Alliances
Sources of weapons
Foreign bases
Group Structure and Logistics
Organisation
Political/Religious representation
Information campaigns
Background Information
Leader biographies
Overview of campaign
Chronology of major events

Key Facts TOP

Group name: Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Level of threat: Fears of Kurdish secessionism have waned since the conflict in Iraq in 2003. The Kurdish leadership seems to have realised that a push for independence would jeopardise the considerable gains they have made over previous years. Nonetheless, the possibility of Kurd-Arab aggression cannot be discounted. As insurgents have sought to exploit faultlines between Shia and Sunni, so too might they seek to aggravate tensions between the Kurds and Arabs in the north of the country.
Status: Active.
Date of founding: June 1975, two months after the collapse of the Kurdish rebellion (1974-75).
Group type: Political.
Aims and objectives: According to the PUK's own publicity its six objectives are to: struggle for democracy, freedom, equality and self determination against dictatorship, war, oppression, discrimination, human rights abuses and terrorism; implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; achieve self determination of the people of Kurdistan; establish a social democratic society in Kurdistan; help in the struggle for global and regional peace, upholding international law and non-interference in internal affairs; eliminate weapons of mass destruction. In essence, the PUK seeks a permanent solution to the Kurdish question which recognises the status quo, namely an autonomous Kurdistan, within a federal Iraq. The group has moved on from its Marxist origins, and claims to support democracy within a federal constitution for the whole country. While the Kurds are pushing for a federal constitution in the post-Saddam era that would leave them in control of their own affairs, this is resisted by those that fear Iraq might fragment or that the empowerment of Iraq's Kurds may create trouble for Turkey, Syria and Iran, all of which have significant Kurdish minorities.
Leaders: Jalal Talabani is founder and secretary general of the PUK.


Threat Assessment TOP

There was concern during the build-up to the March 2003 war that the Kurds would use Saddam Hussein's demise to further increase their power. Turkey even threatened military intervention if Kurdish forces occupied Kirkuk, the centre of Iraq's northern oil industry. But fears of Kurdish secessionism have waned since the conflict. The Kurdish leaderships seem to have realised that a push for independence would jeopardise the considerable gains they made over previous years and have been careful to diffuse Turkish concerns and develop a close relationship with the US. Both parties have kept a low profile since the end of hostilities, preferring to allow the US to calm the rest of the country and oversee the establishment of a constitution, which they assume will include a degree of federal autonomy for the north.

However, fighting between Kirkuk's Kurdish and Turkoman communities, the possible reactivation of Turkey's Kurdish insurgency and Turkey's new-found zeal for supporting the Iraqi Turkoman population ensure that the situation in the north remains tense.

Although Iraqi Kurdistan has remained free from the sheer scale of the violence sweeping much of the rest of the country, the possibility of Kurd-Arab aggression cannot be discounted. As insurgents have sought to exploit faultlines between Shia and Sunni, so too might they seek to aggravate tensions between the Kurds and Arabs in the north of the country. Violence surged in November and December 2004 in the mixed Kurd-Arab town of Mosul, with insurgents over-running police stations and attacking Kurdish party offices. Almost all of Mosul's 5,000-strong police force fled and (mostly Kurdish) national security forces were brought in to restore order. In early December 2004 a suicide car bomber crashed into a bus carrying Kurdish militiamen, killing at least 18.

Targets, tactics and methodology TOP

The PUK uses mountain guerrilla warfare tactics to patrol and maintain control of much of the region under its control, but its militia is also used to urban security.

During the rule of Saddam the Kurdish strategy was to carve out an autonomous enclave and thereafter maintain the status quo, not seeking to extend their influence into Arab areas which might attract Iraqi retaliation.

The Kurdish militias supported the US-led invasion of Iraq in March-April 2003, helping to establish a token northern front against the Baghdad regime. They also took the opportunity to extend their territory to include Mosul and, more importantly, the oil town of Kirkuk. In the post-Saddam Hussein era, the KDP and PUK have been forced to form a close alliance in order to secure Kurdish interests.

Personnel and recruitment TOP

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 guerrillas known locally as peshmerga; plus another 22,000 tribal militia allies. The 1992 elections indicated the PUK probably has a broad political support base, which is non-tribal.

Area of operation TOP

Iraqi Kurdistan comprises six governorates: Arbil, Dohuk, Sulymanya, Kirkuk, Nineva and Dyala. The first three are under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (the latter three are controlled by Baghdad). Arbil, Dohuk and Sulymanya are divided between the two main groups, with the PUK's stronghold based in Sulymanya, and it dominates the southeast.

Operational preparedness TOP

Equipment

There are few communications problems for the guerrilla groups operating in the area as the region has numerous satellite telephone networks, and a GSM service. E-mails and the internet are widely used, and all major towns under KRG control have unrestricted access at internet cafes.

Training

PUK units have received training from both Iran and the US. During the Iran-Iraq war, when Kurdish militias fought with Iranian forces, it was believed that Revolutionary Guards provided basic training for new Kurdish recruits. This would have involved guerrilla warfare, sabotage, ambushes as well as conducting more conventional attacks to seize territory and challenge the Iraqi military. Following Iraq's defeat at the end of the Second Gulf War in 1991, the CIA established training camps in the Safe Havens. Details over this programme was secretive but was believed to include guerrilla and urban warfare seminars and techniques, weapons use, intelligence gathering, assassination and sabotage. There have been reports since the CIA were forced to abandon bases in 1996, that the agency has re-established its presence in Iraqi Kurdistan. The PUK also has its own experienced trainers.

Weaponry

107 mm multiple rocket launchers, 122 mm D-30 Howitzer (towed), 155 mm artillery guns, an indigenous BM21 multiple rocket launcher; anti aircraft guns (14.5 mm single barrel, 14.5 mm ZPU Quad, 23 mm ZU twin barrelled); rifles (7.62 mm SKS, 7.62 mm AK-47), 7.62 mm RPD machine gun, 7.62 mm Draganov sniper rifles, 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun.

Limiting factors TOP

Rival groups

The PUK has also been fighting Jund al-Islam, a Kurdish/Pashtun/Arab group with links to Al-Qaeda, Al-Tawhid, which attempted to frame the PUK for the assassination of the KDP's governor of Erbil and al Ansar al-Islam. The PUK has been opposed to the Iranian supported radical Islamist political groups such as the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) which is based in the Halabja region and which was given military help in 1998 when the PUK sought to curb the group's influence (the IMK has changed its name to the Islamic Union Movement, IUM, and then reverted back). Other splinter organisations, the Kurdish Islamic Group (KIG) and Kurdistan Islamic Union have also sought to participate in the political process and establish their own armed militias.

External Assistance TOP

Funding TOP

Before the 2003 Iraq war, Iraqi Kurdistan was subject to UN sanctions and imports and exports were officially banned. The PUK ran unofficial trade routes into Iran to smuggle oil and other goods. It is not known exactly how much money this generated, but estimates of the whole oil black market trade through Iraqi Kurdistan (using the Iran and Turkey routes) could have been as high as USD250 million per annum, of which the Turkish route, controlled by the rival KDP was the most lucrative. The money was used by the guerrilla groups, and also to fund infrastructure and social projects in the region.

Alliances TOP

Relations between the KDP and PUK have, out of necessity following the fall of Saddam, improved enormously.

The PUK has been closely allied to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, and has provided sanctuary and assistance when the PKK has been under pressure from the Turkish military. The PKK occupy the Qandil mountain region in PUK territory, but relations between the two have been strained since 1998, and in 2001 there were clashes between the PUK and PKK as the former viewed with growing concern, the influence of the PKK in the region.

The PUK joined the Iraqi National Congress (INC) when it was formed in 1992, bringing it into alliance with the KDP, the main Shia umbrella group the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Arab National Movement, supporters of the Iraqi royal family, secularists, Sunnis, Christians and groups of military defectors.

Sources of weapons TOP

The PUK manufactures some weapons including a smaller version of he BM 21 multiple rocket launcher. Other weapons have been acquired from the Iraqi military (from defectors, bought or stolen), Iran, Russia, the US, Turkey and Israel.

Foreign bases TOP

The PUK's relationship with Iran has been varied, but during periods of enormous pressure the group has relied on sanctuary across the Iranian border. Iran has given assistance to the PUK in the past and was considered an important supply route - not least for the smuggling of illegal oil.

Group Structure and Logistics TOP

Organisation TOP

Like the KDP, the PUK runs its own administration based in Sulymanya with an appointed cabinet. Portfolios cover everything from prime minister, to minister of interior, finance, education, religious affairs, justice, culture, industry, transport and reconstruction. Politically Talabani's position is supreme within the organisation.

The PUK has its own Ministry of Defence in Sulymanya and there are four main sections:

Personnel;
Administration;
Intelligence;
Political
Jalal Talabani is commander in chief, with General Mustafa Said Kadir serving as deputy commander in chief. The armed forces are formed by

11 infantry divisions;
1 engineering division;
1 rocket division;
1 anti-air division;
1 cobra special forces battalion.
The PUK has an intelligence service, Assauge (Internal Security).

Post-Saddam organisation

Kurdish leaders are keen to preserve the independence of their peshmerga militias and are loath to accept any arrangement that allows the new Iraqi army to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan. Instead, they proposed the creation of a national guard, comprised of all the ethnic and sectarian groups in the region, including their peshmerga forces, to provide security in the north. The force would fall under the rubric of national defence policy, but would be led by the Kurds at the regional level. Even if Iraqis are willing to accept this proposal, it is likely that the Turks will reject it.

The US plan for disbanding the peshmerga is based on a twin formula of cash and restructuring. Instead of the peshmerga being financed by the KDP and the PUK, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence will pay them, thereby cutting the party link. They are to be reduced by at least two-thirds from their current estimated number of 75,000, with some pensioned off or retrained for police or other civilian jobs. The rest will be divided between border troops, the national guard and a counter-terrorism force based in Kurdistan. Kurdish troops, although nominally under the Iraqi army, will be deployed in the north under Kurdish command.

Political/Religious representation TOP

The PUK is a left wing organisation which has included communists, and Marxist intellectuals. The group officially embraces democratic change and advocates democracy within a federal constitution as the solution to the future of Iraq.

The KDP and PUK are keen to preserve their domination over politics in Iraqi Kurdistan. Both parties administer their own distinct geographical areas; the KDP dominates the northwest of the region, while the PUK dominates the southeast.

Both movements allow the participation of other parties in the political process. A panoply of Turkomans, Arabs, Assyrians, and communists operate in the region, often with their own newspapers and television stations.

The KDP and PUK allow minority groups to rise to cabinet level, but both try to maintain a monopoly on military power in the region. Parties that maintain an armed wing, such as the Islamists, are viewed as a threat. Generally the KDP has been more successful in forcing political parties to disarm.

Both the KDP and PUK refuse to allow sensitive or 'power' ministries to fall out of their control, which effectively places substantial limits on the role that any political party or figure from the outside can play. Within both parties, key decisions are taken by a small handful of individuals. While there is a degree of freedom of speech and political association, human rights abuses have been carried out by both parties.

Post-Saddam, the two main Kurdish parties responded appropriately to the sudden resurgence of the Shia in Iraqi politics. In addition to announcing the eventual merger of the parallel KDP and PUK regional governments - a symbolic gesture of solidarity rather than a radical restructuring of local institutions for the moment - it was announced in early December 2004 that a unified Kurdish party list would contest the January 2005 elections. The list comprises some 15 minor political parties in addition to the two main players.

Prior to the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the PUK's business interests in Iraqi Kurdistan were conducted openly, despite involving the smuggling of black market oil. Since the group has enjoyed some levels of support in the West, it has not been forced to adopt front organisations. Its political interests are served by PUK ministers in the joint Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

Information campaigns TOP

The PUK's official radio station is the Voice of the Kurdistan People. It also publishes newspapers, pamphlets, runs a website and uses its political offices in Europe, the Middle East and US as public relations vehicles.

Background Information TOP

Leader biographies TOP

Jalal Talabani

Jalal Talabani was born in the village of Kelkan in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1933. An early Kurdish nationalist, he was elected to the KDP's central committee at the age of 18 in 1951. In the late 1950s Talabani edited two Kurdish newspapers, Khabat and Kurdistan. When fighting broke out between the central government and the Kurdish nationalists in the early 1960s Talabani commanded the Kirkuk and Sulymanya battlefronts.

However, for much of the 1960s Talabani was at odds with Mullah Mustafa Barzani. The rivalry between the two, in which Mullah Mustafa was often the protagonist, left Talabani fighting with the government in 1966. The final split came with the collapse of the 1975 rebellion.

Talabani formed the PUK in 1975, splitting from the KDP. Ideologically the PUK was a Marxist party, bitterly critical of the reliance Mullah Mustafa had made on Iranian military support, the withdrawal of which had led to the collapse of the 1975 rebellion. Talabani's political leadership of the PUK has tended to be mercurial, with a greater tendency to gamble.

Within the PUK political leadership his position remains utterly secure, and almost certainly will do for the duration of his life. His dominance of the party can be ascribed mainly to the loyalty of those around him. Additionally, the 1992 elections demonstrated the broader political security of the PUK support base. Politically, Talabani has evolved into an advocate of democracy within Iraq and a federal system for the country. A fluent English speaker, he has come to represent the cosmopolitan, leftist wing of the Kurdish political movement.

Overview of campaign TOP

In the August 1920 Treaty of Sevres, the Kurds were promised their own "state" in part of southeastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, within a year. But the treaty was never implemented. Turkey had signed unwillingly (the British were occupying Istanbul), and the signatory was the Turkish Vizier who had little real power. Once General Mustafa Kemal had defeated the French and the Greeks and retaken Istanbul in October 1922, the Treaty was meaningless. Neither did the new Iraqi King Faisal favour the creation of an independent Kurdistan. And amongst the Kurds themselves there was no single nationalist movement rallying the tribes which might have swung events in favour of independence. If anything, many Kurds favoured becoming part of Turkey, as anti-British and anti-Arab sentiment was growing. In July 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne was signed, giving Iraq de facto control over Kurds (in modern day Iraqi Kurdistan), and the discovery of oil in Mosul reinforced Baghdad's reluctance to allow an independent state to emerge.

Among Kurdish tribesmen, discontent with rule from Baghdad continued to simmer. Almost immediately tribal insurrections broke out. The most rebellious of the tribal leaders was Sheikh Ahmed Barzani - the first in a line of Barzanis to lead Kurdish rebels - who refused to allow Iraqi tax collectors to take any revenues, keeping the taxes raised for himself. The Kurdish rebels were better able to use the mountainous terrain that Iraqi troops sent to quell the rebellion and it was not until Britain intervened with aerial bombardments in 1932, destroying Barzani's strongholds, that he was forced to flee in Turkey where he surrendered.

Another major revolt, this time led by Sheikh Ahmed Barzani's brother, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, occurred in 1943-45. He had been imprisoned after the first revolt but returned to Barzan in 1943, where he inspired small-scale insurrections. Again the Iraqis found it impossible to overcome small bands of rebels conducting hit and run ambushes on military targets. Baghdad agreed to loosen the administrative control of the Iraqi regime in Mosul over the Kurdish areas, but failed to make any moves to implement the agreement. Famine and poverty widened support for Barzani, but when he increased his demands to the appointment of a Kurdish commissioner able to overturn Baghdad's decisions effecting the Kurds (as well as a substantial cash reward for himself), the Iraqis moved against him with the help of the Zebari tribe. Barzani fled to Iran.

Until this time, the Kurdish insurrections had been largely tribal with little support from urban Kurdish intellectuals, who had channelled their own independence aspirations through small political groupings, most of which were left-wing. While the urban intellectuals considered Barzani to be a tribal reactionary, there was a growing recognition that without the support of the tribal militias, Kurdish aspirations were unlikely to ever be realised. In 1946 Barzani established the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) which he led from exile in Iran, and which included left-wing political figures.

In 1958 a coup brought Brigadier Abdul Karem Qasim to power in Iraq. Barzani was allowed to return from exile; in 1959, Barzani's tribal militia supported Qasim in putting down an Arab nationalist rebellion in Mosul, and later an insurrection by communists in Kirkuk. The alliance with Qasim enabled Barzani to consolidate his control over Iraqi Kurdistan, punishing those who had betrayed him in 1945 - the Zibaris, Harkis, Sourchis and Baradustis tribes. But as he gained power, Qasim became aware that Barzani may challenge the authority of Baghdad and began to assist Zibaris and Harkis militia groups. In 1959, the Iraqi government's repeal of Agrarian Reform Law caused widespread anger amongst tribal groups; in 1961 the government refused the KDP's demands for autonomy. Another war broke out between 1961 and 1963, pitting the Iraqi army and allies in the Sourchis, Zibaris and Harkis tribes, against the militias supporting Barzani, and the KDP - which was still viewed by Barzani as a political group.

Barzani's militias humiliated the Iraqi military using the familiar tactics of mountain guerrilla warfare. Another coup in February 1963 by the Baath party led to a reduction in military activity and talks between the KDP, Barzani and the Baath Party. But a growing rift was developing by this stage between Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the intellectual, political leader, whom Barzani viewed as a rival for the leadership of the KDP. Fighting between the Kurds and Iraqis broke out once again, and another coup in November led to a further halt in hostilities. The new government led by Abdul Salaam Arif concluded a pact with Barzani in February 1964 which made no mention of Kurdish autonomy. This infuriated Talabani, and the tensions between the two were exploited by Baghdad. Talabani was expelled from the KDP and forced into exile in Iran. With no one to challenge his authority within the KDP Barzani reiterated his demands for autonomy and control of regional oil wealth. There was further fighting, and Talabani returned, but the death of Arif in a helicopter crash brought to power his brother Abdul Rahman, who was supported by hardliners in Baghdad. Despite allegedly using chemical weapons, the Iraqis were defeated and forced to sue for peace. A 15-point agreement, the Bazzaz Declaration, gave the Kurds most of their objectives, but the Prime Minister was forced to resign and hardliners in the military remained opposed to Kurdish autonomy. Talabani sided with the government against Barzani, claiming that he believed the government would still honour its agreements.

Stalemate ensued until 1968 when the Baath Party instigated yet another coup. Again the Talabani faction sided with the new government - they had left wing ideals in common - against Barzani, who was receiving increasing assistance from Iran. Fighting resumed but the new regime was concerned that it too would fall from power over the Kurdish issue, and so Saddam Hussein met with Mullah Mustafa Barzani and issued the 11 March 1970 declaration which seemingly met the Kurds demands. The declaration was a ploy to gain time and the two sides failed to agree on the demographic make up of Kurdistan. In 1971 the Iraqis expelled 50,000 Kurds claiming they were Iranians; the Baath Party were also believed to have been behind an assassination attempt on Barzani.

In 1974 Barzani was delivered an ultimatum to accept an Autonomy Law within two weeks - under the terms of the law Kirkuk was not included as part of Kurdistan and the limitations of Kurdish autonomy made the offer meaningless. The Iraqi army unleashed a massive offensive when Barzani rejected the offer, but the Kurds received substantial Iranian (and US) support. In response Saddam Hussein ceded the disputed Shatt al-Arab to Iran in return for an end to Iranian support for the Kurds signing the Algiers Agreement. The Iranians halted support leaving the Kurdish rebellion in acrimonious disarray, whilst thousands of guerrillas fled into Iran. It is a chapter in Kurdish history which had led to mistrust of the United States which was seen as instrumental in the deal.

It was from this chaos that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was formed. Jalal Talabani initially set the group up from his base in Damascus as an umbrella organisation for left wing Kurdish parties, and included the Socialist Movement of Kurdistan (KSM) led by Ali Askari, and Komala, led by Mustapha Amin.

Within a year the PUK had begun armed operations within Iraqi Kurdistan in the Sulymanya region.

Co-operation between the two groups following the collapse of the rebellion was non-existent and there was a period of bitter fighting between them. The incident which provoked considerable anger on both sides was the 1977 ambush by Sami Abdul Rahman on 400 PUK guerrillas led by Ali Askari. The KDP claimed that the group were planning to attack and slaughter rival group members, a charge which has always been denied by the PUK. Askari was executed and all his men killed.

The Iranian revolution in 1979 was a setback for the PUK, since the new regime in Tehran mistrusted its socialist/communist ideals, and preferred to support the KDP. It was not until 1982 that the PUK and KDP agreed on the freedom of movement for each other's guerrillas, and even this did not alter the deep mistrust between the two sides which was fuelled by personal animosity amongst the leaders.

In 1982, the PUK announced a ceasefire with the Iraqi military, against the wishes of its main supporter, the Syrian government. Talabani hoped to gain the initiative as Baghdad was preoccupied with the war against Iran, which was going very badly. But the ceasefire was mistimed; the US increased assistance for Iraq in the war against Iran, as it viewed Tehran's military resilience with some alarm. Instead Talabani appealed to the Iranians for assistance. The Syrians had cut assistance, but the Iranians insisted that in return for their help, the two factions had to stop their internal feuding. By May 1987 the PUK and KDP had agreed on a unified command structure and joint operations.

The joint operations were devastating for Iraq. By mid-1987, the joint Kurdish forces had seized Rawanduz, Shqlawa and Artush, which enabled the Iranian offensive to push into Iraq. Saddam Hussein's response was to unleash a reign of terror on the Kurdish population; his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid was appointed northern commander. He used chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians, conducted mass executions and the destruction of entire villages on the suspicion of supporting the Kurdish rebels. The offensive against the Kurds continued in 1988, and included mass deportation. In one of the most notorious incidents of the war in March 1988, Iraqi forces undertook a chemical bombardment in Halabja after it had been captured by the PUK and Iran. At least 5,000 civilians were believed to have been killed. The ending of the war between Iran and Iraq only intensified the Iraqi onslaught. Independent analysis maintains that out of a population of four million Iraqi Kurds, the Anfal campaign by June 1989 had left:

At least 200,000 Kurds killed;
One and a half million forcibly moved;
Over 4,000 villages destroyed.
By the beginning of 1990 the Kurdistan Front and the civilian population had been devastated; unable to launch conventional attacks against the Iraqi army, the PUK and KDP continued a low level guerrilla campaign. But the plight of the Kurds finally emerged onto the international agenda following Iraq's unsuccessful bid to annex Kuwait, and its expulsion from Kuwaiti territory in 1991 by the Allies. The Kurdish uprising - allegedly encouraged but not supported - by the United States was again thwarted, this time leading to an estimated one million refugees fleeing Kurdistan. Concerns over the reaction of Turkey to a mass influx of Kurds - when it was fighting its own Kurdish rebels - plus the humanitarian plight, led to the establishment of Safe Havens. A no-fly zone was established above the 36th parallel and the Iraqi military was forced out of Kurdistan, although the contentious issue of Kirkuk was excluded.

The turn of events gave the Kurds de facto control over their homeland. Elections were organised in 1992, with the KDP taking 51 per cent of the vote; and the PUK taking 49 per cent, although the two parties divided the parliamentary seats and formed a joint Kurdistan Regional Government. But the harmonious atmosphere was short lived and in 1994 clashes between the two groups once again broke out. Although still fuelled by the animosity between the Barzani family and Jalal Talabani, at stake was a lucrative source of income in black market border trade. Sanctions led to an increase in black market oil crossing through Kurdistan, and into Turkey but the crucial border posts were under KDP control.

In 1995 the PUK seized Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and were supported by the Turkish Kurdish group, the PKK. The US negotiated a ceasefire between the two, but under alleged pressure from Turkey, the US withdrew its support for fresh elections, allowing the PUK to increase its pressure on the KDP. Turkey was concerned not only with the PKK, whose guerrillas it chased across the border but also over events in Iraqi Kurdistan, where local CIA agents and the Iraqi National Congress (INC), were plotting to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. Ankara's fear was that the plan could misfire, and encourage the permanent fragmentation of Iraq.

In August 1996, with Massoud Barzani having concluded a secret deal with Saddam Hussein, Iraqi troops re-entered Kurdistan and expelled the PUK. The offensive left the US having to hastily abandon the CIA's extensive infrastructure in the region. The PUK counter attacked with Iranian support a month later but were unable to take Erbil. Another ceasefire was concluded between the two sides, but rivalry between the KDP and PKK continued. In May 1997 Turkey launched a major incursion into Kurdistan in a counter-insurgency operation supported by the KDP.

Once the Turks had reduced their military presence in October 1997, a joint PUK-PKK operation against the KDP was undertaken. Turkey intervened with air and land support on the side of the KDP, pushing the PUK back into its traditional sphere of influence and warning that any future attacks would result in the same response. As Turkey became the arbiter of power in Iraqi Kurdistan, observers raised questions as to whether the Turkish intentions were to revise the border, as well as to wipe out PKK resistance.

Despite continued clashes, under pressure from the US the PUK and KDP signed an agreement in Washington in September 1998 for another joint administration and elections. Little progress was made and the KDP expressed concerns over the Bush Administration's intentions towards Iraq. But the 1998 agreement did lead to an improvement of security on the ground.

In November 2001 there were reports of continued fighting between the PUK and Jund al-Islam, a radical Islamist group fighting in Kurdistan, with Arab and Pashtun members, and which formed part of the Al-Qaeda network. The group threatened to seize Sulamaniyeh in Kurdistan in revenge for the US bombing of Afghanistan. Jund al-Islam attempted to assassinate the PUK-Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Prime Minister during 2002. Although the attempt failed, a number of his bodyguards were killed.

From late 2001, contact between the Bush administration and the two main Kurdish groups were frequent, as Washington increasingly focused on ousting Saddam Hussein from power. Although the Pentagon was believed to favour direct US intervention, there was an anticipation that the Kurds would form a vital element within the indigenous opposition forces, as the Northern Alliance had done in Afghanistan. But both the PUK and KDP expressed concerns over US plans, not least as they feared a post Saddam Hussein regime would not tolerate Kurdistan's autonomy. In May 2002, leaked reports indicated that in joint talks between the KDP, PUK, CIA, Pentagon and State Department, the Kurds were given guarantees that in return for helping the US with its objective of regime change in Iraq, they would be rewarded in the post-Saddam era.

Kurds Post-Saddam

Fears of Kurdish secessionism waned after the end of the war. Although dire predictions were made that Iraq's three northern governorates of Dahuk, Arbil and Sulaymaniyah would seek to build on the semi-autonomy they had enjoyed since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurds seem to have realised that a push for independence would most likely jeopardise the considerable gains they had made over the previous years. Although tensions rose when Turkey threatened to intervene in the case of a Kurdish move towards independence, the Kurds have acted carefully to defuse the situation, including withdrawing their peshmerga fighters from the city of Kirkuk. Both the KDP and PUK have kept a low profile since the end of hostilities, preferring to allow the US to calm the rest of the country and oversee the establishment of a constitution - a constitution which they take as read will include reference to the future devolution of power along federal lines.

More recently, tension developed between the CPA and the Kurds, whose bottom line for the type of autonomy they envisage is still far beyond what the US has in mind. As the CPA-Shia crisis over elections reached a head in January 2004, thousands of Kurds demonstrated for the right to remain autonomous amid fears they would be sold out by the Coalition authorities. Further demonstrations took place the following month, with grass roots activists calling on KDP and PUK leaders to submit the future constitution to a referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdish leaders are still refusing to disband their peshmerga militias and are pushing for the power of veto over Iraqi army deployment in Kurdistan. The need for a specifically Kurdish force seems more deep-rooted than ever following bomb attacks in Arbil in February 2004, which killed over 100 people. In virtually simultaneous attacks, suicide bombers hit KDP and PUK offices packed with guests for the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha. Kurdish leaders held Ansar al-Islam responsible.

Chronology of major events TOP

1946 The autonomous Kurdish Republic of Mahabad collapsed, leading to conflict between the Kurdish people and Iraq.

1958 Political tensions led to open warfare between Kurdish tribes and the Iraqis.

1961 There were renewed clashes between Kurdish militia groups and the Iraqi Army.

1974 The Iraqi military fought a fresh counter-insurgency operation in Kurdish areas.

1980-88 During the Iran-Iraq war the Kurds, encouraged by Iran, broke out into open, continuous rebellion and were ruthlessly dealt with; the Iraqis used chemical weapons to wipe out entire villages. This failed to eliminate the insurgency, however.

1991 With encouragement from the Western Coalition allies, the Kurds rebelled against Saddam Hussein's government; once again they were ruthlessly suppressed, prompting a refugee crisis. The Coalition allies established a safe haven in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a no-fly zone to prevent further Iraqi activity in the region. Although the uprising was unsuccessful, it did threaten the government's grip on power. The Kurds captured most of their traditional territories in Iraq, including the city of Mosul.

At the end of the year, the KDP clashed heavily with the PUK in a bitter internal dispute which has resulted in almost continuous fighting between the two.

1996 In June, 3,000 armed members of the KDP attacked and killed a senior Kurdish tribal leader and 15 of his closest associates. 48 other people were reported missing. The KDP accused its victims of acting as spies for the PUK.

Fighting between the KDP and PUK intensified during the summer as both sides battled for control over the USD130 million to USD150 million worth of aid which Kurdistan was to get from Iraqi oil sales under the UN's oil-for-food plan. In the battle for supremacy, the PUK allied itself with the Iranians. The presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraqi Kurdistan threatened to undermine totally the KDP; with US-sponsored peace talks in London failing to make headway, the KDP turned to Saddam Hussein for help.

In August, KDP units overran PUK positions and took Arbil with assistance from Iraqi forces.

1997 In December, the PUK received another setback when Turkish troops launched a major incursion into the Haqurk (Khwakuk) Triangle in northern Iraq, which had been under the control of the group's allies, the Turkish PKK. During the fighting, the Turkish Air Force bombed PUK positions and assisted the KDP in pushing their rivals back towards the Iranian border.

1998 The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to allocate USD97 million in direct military aid to Iraqi rebel groups.

In September, US mediation brought about a degree of conciliation between the KDP and PUK.

2001 In November there were reports of continued fighting between the PUK and Jund al-Islam, a radical Islamist group fighting in Kurdistan, with Arab and Pashtun members, and which formed part of the Al-Qaeda network.

Contact between the Bush administration and the two main Kurdish groups were frequent, as Washington increasingly focused on ousting Saddam Hussein from power.

2002 Leaked reports indicated co-ordination between the KDP, PUK, CIA, Pentagon and Department of State.

2003 Kurdish military officials in Northern Iraq revealed that one of their senior commanders had been killed in an ambush by militants suspected of links to Ansar al-Islam. PUK commander Sherk Jafar said the gunmen were posing as defectors from the group, but on arriving at the meeting with PUK leaders the men opened fire with automatic weapons and grenades. Among those killed were Shawkat Haji Mushir, a member of the Kurdish parliament and an experienced guerrilla fighter. He died along with two of his men and three civilians.

In March-April, the US-led invasion of Iraq occurred. The KDP and PUK moved south to take control of Kirkuk and Mosul. PUK and US forces overran an Ansar al-Islam stronghold.

On 1 May, President Bush declared an end to the main phase of combat.

2004 In January, demonstrations took place in favour of a Kurdish Kirkuk.

In February, the Transitional Administrative Law was passed ensuring the autonomy of Kurdistan pending a constitutional convention in 2005.

In June, sovereignty of Iraq was transferred to Interim Government amidst widespread Kurdish concerns.

In November, Iraqi insurgents attacked the KDP regional committee centre in Mosul. KDP peshmergas returned fire and drove-off the insurgents, killing four. There were no casualties reported on the KDP side.
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Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP)

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 17, 2007 3:30 pm

Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP)
Key Facts
Threat Assessment
Targets, tactics and methodology
Personnel and recruitment
Area of operation
Operational preparedness
Limiting factors
External Assistance
Funding
Alliances
Sources of weapons
Foreign bases
Group Structure and Logistics
Organisation
Political/Religious representation
Information campaigns
Background Information
Leader biographies
Overview of campaign
Chronology of major events

Key Facts TOP

Group name: Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).
Level of threat: Fears of Kurdish secessionism have waned since the Iraqi conflict of March 2003. The Kurdish leaderships seem to have realised that a push for independence would jeopardise the considerable gains they made over previous years. Nonetheless, the possibility of Kurd-Arab aggression cannot be discounted. As insurgents have sought to exploit faultlines between Shia and Sunni, so too might they seek to aggravate tensions between the Kurds and Arabs in the north of the country.
Status: Active.
Date of founding: 1946.
Group type: Political.
Aims and objectives: The KDP claims that its objective is to "combine democratic values and social justice to form a system whereby everyone in Kurdistan can live on an equal basis with great emphasis given to the rights of individuals and freedom of expression." The KDP broadly supports a permanent solution to the Kurdish question which recognises the status quo, namely an autonomous Kurdistan. It seeks to be the dominant political and military power in that autonomous zone but has accepted that issues such as national defence and foreign policy can come under the authority of a central government in Baghdad, in which the KDP has an influential voice. While the Kurds are pushing for a federal constitution in the post-Saddam era that would leave them in control of their own affairs, this is resisted by those that fear Iraq might fragment or that the empowerment of Iraq's Kurds may create trouble for Turkey, Syria and Iran, all of which have significant Kurdish minorities.
Leaders: Massoud Barzani was elected as the president of the KDP at the 9th Party Congress in 1979. He has been re-elected as the Party's President in three other general congresses.


Threat Assessment TOP

There was concern during the build-up to the March 2003 war that the Kurds would use Saddam Hussein's demise to further increase their power. Turkey even threatened military intervention if Kurdish forces occupied Kirkuk, the centre of Iraq's northern oil industry. But fears of Kurdish secessionism have waned since the conflict. The Kurdish leaderships seem to have realised that a push for independence would jeopardise the considerable gains they made over previous years and have been careful to diffuse Turkish concerns and develop a close relationship with the US. Both parties have kept a low profile since the end of hostilities, preferring to allow the US to calm the rest of the country and oversee the establishment of a constitution, which they assume will include a degree of federal autonomy for the north.

However, fighting between Kirkuk's Kurdish and Turkoman communities, the possible reactivation of Turkey's Kurdish insurgency and Turkey's new-found zeal for supporting the Iraqi Turkoman population ensure that the situation in the north remains tense.

Although Iraqi Kurdistan has remained free from the sheer scale of the violence sweeping much of the rest of the country, the possibility of Kurd-Arab aggression cannot be discounted. As insurgents have sought to exploit faultlines between Shia and Sunni, so too might they seek to aggravate tensions between the Kurds and Arabs in the north of the country. Violence surged in November and December 2004 in the mixed Kurd-Arab town of Mosul, with insurgents overrunning police stations and attacking Kurdish party offices. Almost all of Mosul's 5,000-strong police force fled and (mostly Kurdish) national security forces were brought in to restore order. In early December 2004 a suicide car bomber crashed into a bus carrying Kurdish militamen, killing at least 18.

Targets, tactics and methodology TOP

The KDP uses mountain guerrilla warfare tactics to patrol and maintain control of much of the region under its control, but its militia is also used to urban security. The KDP's militias are tribally based, and the group's leadership uses patronage to maintain loyalties of the tribes.

During the rule of Saddam the Kurdish strategy was to carve out an autonomous enclave and thereafter maintain the status quo, not seeking to extend their influence into Arab areas which might attract Iraqi retaliation.

The Kurdish militias supported the US-led invasion of Iraq in March-April 2003, helping to establish a token northern front against the Baghdad regime. They also took the opportunity to extend their territory to include Mosul and, more importantly, the oil town of Kirkuk. In the post-Saddam Hussein era, the KDP and PUK have been forced to form a close alliance in order to secure Kurdish interests.

Personnel and recruitment TOP

The KDP is believed to be able to field up to 15,000 guerrillas with another 25,000 tribal militia allies providing support.

Area of operation TOP

Iraqi Kurdistan comprises six governorates: Arbil, Dohuk, Sulymanya, Kirkuk, Nineva and Dyala. The first three are under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (the latter three are controlled by Baghdad). Arbil, Dohuk and Sulymanya are divided between the two main groups. The KDP's area of control is in the northwest.

Operational preparedness TOP

Equipment

There are few communications problems for the guerrilla groups operating in the area as the region has numerous satellite telephone networks, and a GSM service. E-mails and the internet are widely used, and all major towns under KRG control have unrestricted access at internet cafes.

Training

The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has been influential in the training of KDP cadres, and it was Mossad who established the group's intelligence arm, Parastin in 1966. Massoud Barzani was the first head of the Parastin and is believed to have received intensive training in Kurdistan and Israel prior to becoming the KDP leader. Subsequently the KDP is likely to have come under the influence of Iranian and US military instructors, as well as developing its own training programmes. During the Iran-Iraq war, when Kurdish militias fought with Iranian forces, it was believed that Revolutionary Guards provided basic training for new Kurdish recruits. This would have involved guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and ambushes. It also involved conducting more conventional attacks aimed at the seizure of territory and challenging the Iraqi military. Following Iraq's defeat at the end of the Second Gulf War in 1991, the CIA established training camps in the Safe Havens. Details over this programme was secretive but was believed to include guerrilla and urban warfare seminars and techniques, weapons use, intelligence gathering, assassination and sabotage. There have been reports since the CIA were forced to abandon bases in 1996, that the agency has re-established its presence in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Weaponry

107 mm multiple rocket launchers (mobile, jeep mounted), 155 mm and 210 mm self propelled mortars, 122 mm D-30 Howitzer (towed); anti-aircraft guns (23 mm ZPU twin barrelled and 14.5 mm ZPU); rifles (7.62 mm SKS, 7.62 mm AK-47, 7.62 mm Draganov sniper, 7.62 mm RPD, 12.7 mm DShK), rocket propelled grenade launcher (RPG-7).

Limiting factors TOP

Rival groups

The KDP's rivals include Iranian supported militant groups operating in the region. In 2000, al-Tawheed assassinated the KDP governor of Erbil Franso Harriri at the behest of Iran. The move had been designed to undermine US brokered peace in the area, and hence the influence of Washington. The KDP's control of the border with Turkey has complicated relations with Ankara, and brought the KDP into the Turkish-Kurdish struggle. The KDP has conducted anti-PKK operations, and given assistance to the Turkish military during incursions. Nonetheless, the KDP leadership opposes Turkey's stance on the Kurdistan question.

Although relations with the PUK have improved since the 1998 agreement, fighting could erupt once again between the two.

External Assistance TOP

Funding TOP

Before the 2003 Iraq war, Iraqi Kurdistan was subject to UN sanctions. Imports and exports were officially banned. But smuggling, and the trade in oil - both through the blackmarket, and through UN officiated programmes - was controlled by the Kurdish groups. The KDP ran the lucrative unofficial routes into Turkey and Iran. The Turkey route, via the Ibrahim Khalil/Habur border point, by some estimates may have brought in USD100 or even USD200 million per year. This revenue was in addition to the money gained through the oil for food programme and by trade with Iran. Not all of the revenue was siphoned off by guerrilla leaders, and much of the money went toward infrastructure projects such as the rebuilding of educational, medical and social facilities.

Alliances TOP

Relations between the KDP and PUK have, out of necessity following the fall of Saddam, improved enormously.

The KDP joined the Iraqi National Congress (INC) when it was formed in 1992. This act brought the KDP into alliance with the PUK, the main Shia umbrella group the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Arab National Movement, supporters of the Iraqi royal family, secularists, Sunnis, Christians and groups of military defectors.

Sources of weapons TOP

Weapons have been acquired from the Iraqi military (from defectors, bought or stolen), Iran, Russia, the US, Turkey and Israel.

Foreign bases TOP

The KDP has International Relations Committees established in Washington, Madrid, London and Ankara which primarily conduct public relations campaigns but also provide a focal point for donations from Kurdish communities overseas and facilitating relations with foreign governments. In the past, the KDP has relied on bases and supply lines in Iranian Kurdistan.

Group Structure and Logistics TOP

Organisation TOP

Both the KDP and PUK run their own administrations with an appointed cabinet. Portfolios cover everything from prime minister to ministers of interior, finance, education, religious affairs, justice, culture, industry, transport, and reconstruction.

The KDP's military forces are under the command of its Ministry of Defence in Erbil.

The intelligence service for the KDP is called Paristan. Led by Masroor Barzani, it is divided into three sections:

Internal security;
Military intelligence;
The Maktab al-Khassa (Special Office)
The KDP has long operated a sophisticated intelligence wing called Parastin. It was set up in 1966 with the aid of the Israeli Mossad, at a time when Israel was providing arms, military training and funding to the Iraqi Kurds. The first head of Parastin was Massoud Barzani.

Post-Saddam organisation

Kurdish leaders are keen to preserve the independence of their peshmerga militias and are loath to accept any arrangement that allows the new Iraqi army to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan. Instead, they proposed the creation of a national guard, comprised of all the ethnic and sectarian groups in the region, including their peshmerga forces, to provide security in the north. The force would fall under the rubric of national defence policy, but would be led by the Kurds at the regional level. Even if Iraqis are willing to accept this proposal, it is likely that the Turks will reject it.

The US plan for disbanding the peshmerga is based on a twin formula of cash and restructuring. Instead of the peshmerga being financed by the KDP and the PUK, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence will pay them, thereby cutting the party link. They are to be reduced by at least two-thirds from their current estimated number of 75,000, with some pensioned off or retrained for police or other civilian jobs. The rest will be divided between border troops, the national guard and a counter-terrorism force based in Kurdistan. Kurdish troops, although nominally under the Iraqi army, will be deployed in the north under Kurdish command.

Political/Religious representation TOP

Most Kurds are Sunnis, although there is little evidence of radicalism within the KDP. Unlike the PUK, the KDP developed from tribal and clan loyalties, rather than political, intellectual opposition. Its political interests are served by KDP ministers in the joint Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

The KDP and PUK are keen to preserve their domination over politics in Iraqi Kurdistan. Both parties administer their own distinct geographical areas; the KDP dominates the northwest of the region, while the PUK dominates the southeast.

Both movements allow the participation of other parties in the political process. A panoply of Turkomans, Arabs, Assyrians, and communists operate in the region, often with their own newspapers and television stations.

The KDP and PUK allow minority groups to rise to cabinet level, but both try to maintain a monopoly on military power in the region. Parties that maintain an armed wing, such as the Islamists, are viewed as a threat. Generally the KDP has been more successful in forcing political parties to disarm.

Both the KDP and PUK refuse to allow sensitive or 'power' ministries to fall out of their control, which effectively places substantial limits on the role that any political party or figure from the outside can play. Within both parties, key decisions are taken by a small handful of individuals. While there is a degree of freedom of speech and political association, human rights abuses have been carried out by both parties.

Information campaigns TOP

The KDP runs its own press offices and media groups including the satellite TV channel - Kurdish TV.

Background Information TOP

Leader biographies TOP

Massoud Barzani

Born in Mahabad, Iran, on 16 August 1946, Massoud Barzani is the fourth son of Mullah Mustafa Barzani. From an early age his life has been intrinsically linked to the Kurdish struggle for self-determination. His father, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, is widely seen as the founding figure of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Iraqi Kurdistan.

After the death of Mustafa Barzani in March 1979, Massoud was elected as the new president of the KDP in the 9th Party Congress. He has been re-elected as the Party's President in three other general congresses.

While Barzani has little in the way of formal education, he is a voracious reader and speaks good English, as well as Kurdish, Persian and Arabic. Despite his good command of the English language - one regular foreign visitor estimated that he understood 90 per cent of any conversation - all talks with foreign visitors are conducted with an interpreter.

As a political leader Massoud Barzani tends to rely and trust only a small inner circle, mainly made up of family. While the KDP has become a mass party in Iraqi Kurdistan, with popular support, the most senior and sensitive posts tend to be held within the family. Barzani's nephew, Nachevan Barzani, holds the post of prime minister; his son, Masroor runs the KDP's intelligence service (Paristan), whilst Hoshiar Zebari, Barzani's uncle, heads the KDP's foreign relations.

Barzani remains a popular leader within the KDP. His popularity centres on his own personal integrity and commitment to the Kurdish cause of self-determination. Politically, Barzani seeks autonomy for the Kurdish population in Iraqi Kurdistan within a democratic Iraq.

Overview of campaign TOP

Kurdish nationalism and the KDP

Growing urban Kurdish nationalism had found its outlet in a number of small political parties. The mid-1930s had seen the emergence of parties such as Komola Brayati (Brotherhood Society), founded by Sheikh Latif, the son of Sheikh Mahmood and the more radical Darkar (Woodcutters) in Sulaymaniyah, which later became the Hiwa (Hope) party. However, such groups were small and urban, with little support from the rural tribes, and hence without any military power. They also generally supported a leftist political agenda. Their lack of influence was highlighted by the way Mullah Mustafa Barzani kept Hiwa at arm's-length during his 1943-45 revolt. This rejection led to the 1945 formation of another party, Rizgari Kurd (Kurdish Liberation), with an explicit nationalist agenda, demanding an independent Kurdish state.

Again, it was to be short lived. In 1946 Mullah Mustafa Barzani proposed the establishment of the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party. By this time Mullah Mustafa had become a household name amongst Kurds for his defence of the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran. Whilst the leftists considered Mullah Mustafa to be somewhat reactionary and tribal, their arguments were drowned out by those who believed that without his support the party would never have any broad appeal amongst the tribes, who dominated the region. On 16 August 1946 the KDP held its first congress in Baghdad, with Mullah Mustafa leading the party from his exile in Iran.

Mullah Mustafa's return to Iraq came with the 14 July 1958 coup of Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim. Qasim's rule was fragile: he was under pressure from the Arab nationalists to unify Iraq with other Arab states, felt threatened by the power of the communists and was insecure about his own power base. Mullah Mustafa was a potentially useful counterweight. This was quickly demonstrated when Mullah Mustafa used his Kurdish tribesmen to quell an Arab nationalist revolt, protesting at Qasim's betrayal of Arab nationalism, in Mosul in March 1959. Mullah Mustafa proved equally adept at dealing with the communists in Kirkuk, later that year, helping Qasim subdue yet another potential threat.

If Mullah Mustafa was willing to help Qasim he also had his own agenda - the consolidation of his own power in Kurdistan - and he had not forgotten or forgiven the tribes who had helped Baghdad drive him out in 1945. By the end of 1959 Mullah Mustafa had attacked the Zibaris, Harkis, Sourchis and Baradustis, making his control over Kurdistan increasingly hard to dispute. As such Qasim began to perceive him as an increasing threat to his own power and, by late 1960, was supporting the Zibaris and Harkis in their clashes with Mullah Mustafa. War appeared inevitable.

The 1961-63 war once again highlighted many of the differences in the Kurdish camp. Nominally, Mullah Mustafa was the head of the KDP, but when the war started he refused to allow it to operate in any area under his control. The KDP was essentially an urban political party with a nationalist and social agenda, not a tribe with armed manpower, although it did manage to operate a growing armed wing. Indeed, it is debatable as to whether Mullah Mustafa saw the KDP, at that time, as anything other than a vehicle to enhance his own personal power in Kurdistan.

In so far as Mullah Mustafa had a political agenda, it appeared to be borrowed from the many disgruntled tribes, who had been angered by the repeal of the 1959 Agrarian Reform Law, which placed limitations on land ownership. It was in fact these tribes that sparked the rebellion. The KDP joined the fray because Qasim had refused to grant the wide-ranging autonomy it demanded in July 1961 and to remain on the sidelines would have been politically damaging.

Ranged with the government, predictably enough, were the numerous tribes, such as the Sourchis, Zibaris and Harkis, who bore a vitriolic hatred of Mullah Mustafa. The war itself brought bitter failure to the Iraqi military, which was repeatedly ambushed in unfamiliar terrain, and by the end 1962 the military situation had deteriorated. It was brought to a halt by the Baath party coup on 8 February 1963.

The Baath government, with its extreme pan-Arab ideology, was viewed warily by the Kurds. Negotiations between the Mullah Mustafa, the KDP and the Baath came to nothing, with the Kurdish parties demanding wide-ranging autonomy and the inclusion of the oil fields of Kirkuk. Hostilities were delayed only because the Baath was ill prepared. The fighting, which broke out in June, exposed the divisions within the Kurdish nationalist ranks. These tensions increasingly centred on leading KDP member, Jalal Talabani and Mullah Mustafa, the urban intellectual and the tribal leader. Talabani's trip to Egypt, with part of a Baath delegation, representing the Kurds, had incurred Mullah Mustafa's displeasure as it potentially undermined his leadership. Thus, when clashes between the nationalists and the Baath finally broke out, the Kurds were anything but militarily united. But once again the hostilities were suspended by a military coup in November 1963.

The new regime, made up of military officers led by Abd al-Salam Arif, was aware that it could ill afford hostilities with the Kurds in its early days if it was to survive and consolidate its power base. On 10 February 1964 Mullah Mustafa signed a peace agreement with Arif; but the agreement omitted any mention of autonomy and referred to Iraqi Kurdistan only as the 'Northern Region'. The result was a bitter argument between the KDP, represented by Talabani, who pointed out the omissions in the agreement, and Mullah Mustafa. Naturally enough, Arif was happy to support Mullah Mustafa.

In April 1964 Talabani and Ibrahim Ahmed held a 6th KDP Congress at Mawat. It condemned Mullah Mustafa's unilateral signing of the agreement and the terms of the agreement. But the Congress was poorly attended, while Mullah Mustafa held the bulk of the Kurdish fighting force. Three months later Mullah Mustafa held his 6th KDP Congress at Qala Diza. The Talabani/Ahmed group was expelled from the KDP and their humiliation compounded by being forced into exile in Iran by Mullah Mustafa's fighting force, led by his son, Idris.

With his standing in the Kurdish movement unchallenged, Mullah Mustafa abandoned his commitment to his original agreement with Arif and demanded, as Talabani had, autonomy for the Kurdish region, with the oil fields included. It was unacceptable to Arif. In March 1965 the Iraqi military resumed its offensive against Mullah Mustafa. With the commencement of hostilities against the government the Talabani/Ahmed group returned to fight with the nationalists, but the war ground to a halt with the death of Arif in a helicopter crash. Arif was succeeded by his brother Abd al-Rahman, who gave way to the hardliners, allowing the war to resume. Despite the use of chemical weapons the army suffered an appalling defeat, allowing the pro-peace lobby, headed by Prime Minister Abd al-Rahman Bazzaz, to take the initiative and open negotiations with Mullah Mustafa. The result was a 15 point agreement that gave the KDP almost everything it demanded.

The resignation of Bazzaz, forced by military hardliners, appeared to end the possibility that the government would implement the agreement. Divisions in the government were mirrored by divisions amongst the Kurds. In January 1966 Talabani and Ahmed broke with Mullah Mustafa and joined the government. Ostensibly they claimed that they believed the government would implement the Bazzaz agreement, privately the reasons were probably more personal and their ideological opposition to the Mullah Mustafa's politics.

More alarming for the government was the steady supply of weapons that began to arrive from Iran, which had become increasingly worried about Baghdad's close ties to Moscow. The war ground to a standstill and in July 1968 the Baath party carried out a coup.

Iraqi Kurdistan (1990-2002)

Iraq's military defeat at the hands of the Allies in 1991 resulted in the establishment of a 'Safe Haven' for the Kurds. The failure of their uprising in 1991, with over a million refugees fleeing Iraq, forced the international community to establish the Safe Haven to allow the refugees to return. A 'no-fly' or air exclusion zone was established above the 36th parallel, and Iraqi forces were pushed out of the Kurdish region, with the exception of Kirkuk. The result was that the Kurdistan Front now controlled more territory in Iraqi Kurdistan than ever before and Kurds, for the first time since the British Mandate, were able to control their own affairs. In 1992 elections were held. The results left the KDP (51 per cent) with a slight majority over the PUK (49 per cent). Both parties, however, agreed to split the seats in the parliament in Erbil equally, and formed the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

However, in 1994 clashes broke out between the KDP and PUK. In part the reasons can be ascribed to the rivalry between the two groups. However, the rivalry was exacerbated enormously by the sanctions that affected Iraq, and Kurdistan. By far the largest source of income for the Kurds was the cross border trade in petrol, between the Kurdish region and Turkey. The border post came under the KDP's area of control. It was this crucial competition for resources that allowed political tensions to explode, sparking the first bout of fighting. In 1995 the PUK took the de facto Kurdish capital of Arbil, amid heavy fighting. The internal fighting between the two groups was compounded by the PKK's declaration of war against the KDP in 1995.

Negotiations between the two factions, brokered by the US, ended with both sides pledging to uphold a ceasefire and hold fresh elections. But when the US withdrew its support for the elections, claiming the USD2 million it had pledged was unavailable due to a budget deficit crisis, Massoud Barzani turned to Saddam Hussein.

The withdrawal of US interest in the region (almost certainly at the behest of Ankara - see Relations with Turkey), left the PUK increasing its military pressure on the KDP. In August 1996 Iraqi tanks entered Arbil at the invitation of Massoud Barzani, forcing the PUK from the city and, temporarily, from the entire region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Saddam had been happy to oblige as it gave him the opportunity to destroy the CIA's infrastructure in Kurdistan, forcing the agency to evacuate several thousand local operatives back to the US, and generally undermine US influence in the region.

With strong Iranian backing the PUK launched a counterattack a month later, recapturing much of their traditional sphere of influence, though not Erbil. While a tentative ceasefire held between the KDP and PUK, sporadic clashes between the KDP and PKK continued. In May 1997 the Turkish military launched a sustained and prolonged offensive, with the full backing of the KDP, against PKK guerrillas operating in Iraqi Kurdistan.

As the Turkish military presence in the region decreased, the PUK and the PKK launched a joint offensive against the KDP in October 1997. With the PKK tipping the military balance and the KDP rapidly losing ground, the Turkish military intervened decisively; air power and tanks were used to push the PUK back to their former frontlines. Moreover, it was made abundantly clear that any further PUK offensives would meet with the same response. The region was under Pax Turkiye.

1998 saw the first tentative negotiations between the two parties, though with little progress. The PUK's use of the PKK in 1998 was almost certainly one reason. The close of the 1997 fighting had seen the bulk of the PKK guerrilla force move into the Qandil mountain range, on the border with Iran, but firmly in the PUK's jurisdiction. And whilst the PUK no longer had a military option, it seemed content enough to allow the PKK to continue a proxy war against the KDP as a way of maintaining its leverage at the negotiating table. However, as US concerns about Baghdad increased so too did its involvement in the peace process; and in September 1998 Barzani and Talabani signed the Washington Agreement, pledging fresh elections and a joint administration. However, neither elections nor a joint administration have been forthcoming.

Kurds post-Saddam

Fears of Kurdish secessionism waned after the end of the war. Although dire predictions were made that Iraq's three northern governorates of Dahuk, Arbil and Sulaymaniyah would seek to build on the semi-autonomy they had enjoyed since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurds seem to have realised that a push for independence would most likely jeopardise the considerable gains they had made over the previous years. Although tensions rose when Turkey threatened to intervene in the case of a Kurdish move towards independence, the Kurds have acted carefully to defuse the situation, including withdrawing their peshmerga fighters from the city of Kirkuk. Both the KDP and PUK have kept a low profile since the end of hostilities, preferring to allow the US to calm the rest of the country and oversee the establishment of a constitution - a constitution which they take as read will include reference to the future devolution of power along federal lines.

More recently, tension developed between the CPA and the Kurds, whose bottom line for the type of autonomy they envisage is still far beyond what the US has in mind. As the CPA-Shia crisis over elections reached a head in January 2004, thousands of Kurds demonstrated for the right to remain autonomous amid fears they would be sold out by the Coalition authorities. Further demonstrations took place the following month, with grass roots activists calling on KDP and PUK leaders to submit the future constitution to a referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdish leaders are still refusing to disband their peshmerga militias and are pushing for the power of veto over Iraqi army deployments in Kurdistan. The need for a specifically Kurdish force seems more deep-rooted than ever following bomb attacks in Arbil in February 2004, which killed over 100 people. In virtually simultaneous attacks, suicide bombers hit KDP and PUK offices packed with guests for the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha. Kurdish leaders held Ansar al-Islam responsible.

Chronology of major events TOP

1946 The autonomous Kurdish Republic of Mahabad collapsed, leading to conflict between the Kurdish people and Iraq.

1958 Political tensions led to open warfare between Kurdish tribes and the Iraqis.

1961 There were renewed clashes between Kurdish militia groups and the Iraqi Army.

1974 The Iraqi military fought a fresh counter-insurgency operation in Kurdish areas.

1980-88 During the Iran-Iraq war the Kurds, encouraged by Iran, broke out into open, continuous rebellion and were ruthlessly dealt with; the Iraqis used chemical weapons to wipe out entire villages. This failed to eliminate the insurgency, however.

1991 With encouragement from the Western allies, the Kurds rebelled against Saddam Hussein's government once again; they were ruthlessly suppressed, prompting a refugee crisis. The Coalition allies established a safe haven in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a no-fly zone to prevent further Iraqi activity in the region. Although the uprising was unsuccessful, it did threaten the government's grip on power. The Kurds captured most of their traditional territories in Iraq, including the city of Mosul.

At the end of the year, the KDP clashed heavily with the PUK in a bitter internal dispute which has resulted in almost continued fighting between the two.

1996 In June, 3,000 armed members of the KDP attacked and killed a senior Kurdish tribal leader and 15 of his closest associates. 48 other people were reported missing. The KDP accused its victims of acting as spies for the PUK.

Fighting between the KDP and PUK intensified during the summer as both sides battled for control over the USD130 million to USD150 million worth of aid which Kurdistan was to get from Iraqi oil sales under the UN's oil-for-food plan. In the battle for supremacy, the PUK allied itself with the Iranians. The presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraqi Kurdistan threatened to totally undermine the KDP; with US-sponsored peace talks in London failing to make headway, the KDP turned to Saddam Hussein for help.

In August, KDP units overran PUK positions and took Arbil with assistance from Iraqi forces.

1997 In December, the KDP provided assistance when 20,000 Turkish troops launched another major incursion into northern Iraq. The operation was in the Haqurk (Khwakuk) Triangle, an area controlled by the Turkish PKK. During the fighting, Turkish forces assisted the KDP in pushing back rival PUK units towards the Iranian border.

1998 The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to allocate USD97 million in direct military aid to Iraqi rebel groups.

In September, US mediation brought about a degree of conciliation between the KDP and PUK

2001 As Washington increasingly focused on ousting Saddam Hussein from power, contact between the Bush administration and the two main Kurdish groups was frequent.

2002 In May, leaked reports indicated that joint talks between the KDP, PUK, CIA, Pentagon and State Department were taking place.

Turkey closed its border with Iraqi Kurdistan to all trade. The financial loss was a significant blow to both the KDP and local Turkish economy but was believed to reflect growing unease in Ankara over stability in the region.

2003 In March-April, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq. The KDP and PUK moved south to take control of Kirkuk and Mosul. PUK and US forces overran Ansar al-Islam stronghold.

On 1 May, President Bush declared an end to the main phase of combat operations.

2004 In January, demonstrations took place in favour of a Kurdish Kirkuk.

In February, the Transitional Administrative Law was passed ensuring the autonomy of Kurdistan pending a constitutional convention in 2005.

In June, sovereignty of Iraq was transferred to Interim Government amidst widespread Kurdish concerns.

In November, Iraqi insurgents attacked the KDP regional committee centre in Mosul. KDP peshmergas returned fire and drove-off the insurgents, killing four. There were no casualties reported on the KDP side.
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Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK)

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 17, 2007 3:33 pm

Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK)
Key Facts
Threat Assessment
Targets, tactics and methodology
Personnel and recruitment
Area of operation
Operational preparedness
Limiting factors
External Assistance
Funding
Alliances
Sources of weapons
Foreign bases
Group Structure and Logistics
Organisation
Political/Religious representation
Information campaigns
Background Information
Leader biographies
Overview of campaign
Chronology of major events

Key Facts TOP

Group name: Workers' Party of Kurdistan (Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan: PKK). Renamed the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (Kongra Azadî û Demokrasiya Kurdistan: KADEK) in 2002 and again renamed the Kurdistan People's Congress (Kongra Gelê Kurdistan: KONGRA-GEL) in 2003. All three names are on the EU's list of terrorist groups and the US Department of State's list of designated terrorist groups. In February 2005, the group was restructured and resumed calling itself the PKK. KONGRA-GEL is now used to describe the organisation's decision-making assembly, while its armed wing is called the People's Defence Force (Hezen Parastina Gel: HPG).
Level of threat: The PKK is not as dangerous as it was in the early 1990s and its ability to carry out large-scale attacks in Turkey has greatly diminished. However, it retains the ability to conduct hit-and-run attacks on targets in southeast Turkey, where the conflict has claimed approximately 850-950 lives since June 2004. As part of its two front strategy, the PKK also conducts an urban bombing campaign in western Turkey, primarily targeting the tourism industry. The bombing campaign has claimed approximately 22 lives since June 2004, including those of seven foreigners.
Status: Active.
Date of founding: 1974. Named PKK in 1978. First armed attack August 1984.
Group type: National Separatist.
Aims and objectives: The original primary objective of the PKK was to promote a communist revolution in Turkey. The group's aims and objectives have evolved with the changing political climate. They have ranged from the separation of Kurdistan from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and the creation of a Kurdish federation in the Middle East, to liberating the Kurdish-dominated region of Turkey and establishing a civil authority. In February 2005, the organisation redefined its theoretical objectives and announced that it was fighting to establish the Kurdish Democratic Federation (Koma Komalen Kurdistan: KKK), a supra-national pyramidical structure of representative committees and assemblies culminating in the KONGRA-GEL. In practice, the PKK's immediate objectives are greater cultural and political rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority, including the amendment of the Turkish constitution to include an explicit recognition of a Kurdish identity, a comprehensive amnesty for PKK militants, including allowing the organisation's leadership to participate in political activities in Turkey, and an easing of the conditions of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan leading eventually to his release.
Leaders: Most PKK members look to Abdullah Öcalan as their president, despite his having been confined alone on the prison island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara since 1999. Ocalan is currently honorary president of the PKK and remains responsible for overall strategy, communicating with the organisation through his lawyers. But the restrictions imposed by his incarceration mean that in practice the PKK is run by Murat Karayilan, a veteran field commander and the current president of the KKK Executive Committee.


Threat Assessment TOP

The PKK is not as powerful as it was in the early 1990s when it was able to launch major military operations and controlled large swathes of southeastern Turkey after dark. The capture and imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan in February 1999 came at a time when the Turkish security forces had already gained the upper hand on the battlefield through the forced evacuation of villages to deprive the PKK of logistical support from the local population, aggressive patrolling and the use of Cobra helicopters for hot pursuit. In August 1999, Ocalan announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire and ordered all PKK units inside Turkey to leave the country prior to the organisation pursuing its goals by political rather than military means. In May 2004, he ordered the PKK to resume its armed campaign starting from 1 June 2004.

Since June 2004, the PKK has pursued a two-front strategy: a rural insurgency in southeast Turkey combined with an urban bombing campaign in the west of the country, mostly targeting Istanbul and tourist resorts along Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coast. An estimated 22 civilians have been killed (seven of them foreigners) and injured several hundred more. Precise figures are difficult to determine as, in order to try to minimise the damage to one of the country's main sources of foreign currency, the Turkish authorities have frequently officially attributed explosions caused by bombs to accidents, typically faulty gas canisters, although members of the security forces engaged in investigating the explosions have had little hesitation in privately confirming that they were caused by bombs.

There were two waves of successful bombings during summer 2006, the first in June and the second in August. Most seriously, on 25 June 2006 four people were killed (three of them foreign tourists), and 25 injured after a bomb hidden in a rubbish bin exploded at an open-air restaurant in Manavgat. In late August, six bombings in three days (one in Istanbul and five along the Mediterranean coast) killed three civilians and injured over 50. There were also more than 10 other explosions during August which caused mostly minor injuries. For propaganda purposes, responsibility for the bombing campaign has been claimed by an organisation calling itself the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (Tayrbazen Azadiya Kurdistan: TAK). In reality, TAK is comprised of PKK militants reporting to Murat Karayilan.

Most of the bombs used by the PKK/TAK in western Turkey are relatively small, operate on time-fuses and carried to the target by a militant. During its 1984-1999 campaign, the PKK occasionally used suicide bombers, almost all of them female, to position explosives close to Turkish military units. In July 2005, Turkish police arrested a woman alleged to be a PKK militant planning a suicide bombing of a tourist area. However, there have to date been no successful suicide bombings by the PKK since its resumption of violence in June 2004.

The PKK's abandonment of its ceasefire was accompanied by, and has contributed to, a rise in Turkish nationalism. Unlike in the 1990s, each death of a member of the Turkish security forces is extensively covered in the Turkish media. The riots of March 2006 included clashes between PKK supporters and Turkish ultranationalists on the streets of Istanbul, which is home to an estimated three million Kurds, mostly poor migrants from the countryside. In the medium-term, the greatest danger posed by the PKK's rural insurgency is that it will fuel nationalist sentiments and provoke ethnic clashes on a larger scale. In early September 2006 there were clashes between mobs of Kurdish migrants and Turkish ultranationalists in Istanbul and in the central Anatolian city of Konya.

In the absence of a state sponsor, the PKK appears unlikely to be able to increase its military capabilities either to the levels of the early 1990s or to the point where it poses a military threat to the Turkish state. Nevertheless, it has the capacity to continue to inflict casualties. No reliable figures are available, but since resuming its armed campaign in June 2004 the PKK is believed to have killed 200-250 members of the Turkish security forces for the loss of 650-700 of its own members.

Targets, tactics and methodology TOP

The current absence of foreign state support and the restrictions on funding operations in Europe have combined to limit the PKK's access to training, weapons and logistics. As a result, since resuming its violent campaign in June 2004 the PKK has mostly concentrated on long-range harassing fire, ambushes and mines placed on roads and railways. Its primary targets in southeast Turkey have been the Turkish security forces and state institutions and officials. However, unlike the 1990s, it has made no attempt to control territory, even after dark and is unable to confront the Turkish military on the battlefield.

The main objective of its rural insurgency is not military victory but propaganda and attrition in order to preserve its position as the primary focus of Kurdish nationalism and force the Turkish state to grant political concessions. These include the lifting of restrictions on the expression of a political and cultural Kurdish identity, a general amnesty on PKK militants and an easing of Ocalan's isolation prior to his eventual release and participation in the political process. There currently appears little prospect of the Turkish state agreeing to any of these concessions.

The PKK's bombing campaign in western Turkey is primarily designed to inflict economic damage and deter foreign tourists rather than cause mass casualties. To date, the attacks have been concentrated in Istanbul and the tourist resorts along Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts. However, news of many of the attacks, particularly those which have not caused any casualties, has been suppressed by the Turkish authorities for fear of harming the local tourism industry. For example, a number of bombings causing only material damage in Antalya in August 2004 were officially attributed to gas leakages.

Personnel and recruitment TOP

The PKK is currently believed to have a total of 4,500-5,000 militants under arms inside Turkey and in camps in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq. The number of militants inside Turkey varies according to operational circumstances and the season, falling to less than 1,000 during the winter and rising to 2,500-3,000 during the period April to September, which is the main campaigning season.

The PKK has a large support base inside Turkey and amongst the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, particularly in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. It also has a presence, mostly used for propaganda and fund-raising activities, in North America and throughout Europe.

Since June 2004, there has been a marked increase in public sympathy for the PKK amongst Turkey's Kurds. This is partly attributable to popular frustration at the Turkish government's failure either to grant further cultural and political rights or to take measures to develop what remains the most impoverished region of the country. Some of the growth in support for the PKK is also attributable to reactions to the repressive measures taken by the security forces since June 2004. Another important factor is family loyalty. In Kurdish areas families are large and closely-knit. Consequently, almost every Kurd in southeast Turkey has a relative who has joined the PKK. Even if they may not actively support the PKK, few Kurds will oppose it once a family member has joined the organisation, particularly if he or she is subsequently killed. As a result, each death of a PKK militant has the potential to create dozens of PKK sympathisers. In addition to those who are genuinely sympathetic to the PKK, the organisation has frequently resorted to violence and intimidation to ensure the cooperation of many others, particularly amongst the Kurdish population in Turkey and Europe.

Despite a high casualty rate amongst its fighting units and the ruthless manner in which it deals with dissent or suspected disloyalty, the PKK has not experienced any difficulty in sourcing fresh recruits. Most continue to be drawn from the rural and urban poor in southeast Turkey, although the organisation has also recruited extensively from the younger generations of Kurdish migrants to the cities in western Turkey. For its rural insurgency, the PKK also recruits from the Kurdish population in Syria and Iran and from the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. However, the latter are often ill-suited to the demanding physical conditions in the mountains of southeastern Turkey. For its bombing campaign in western Turkey, the PKK only uses militants who have been born and raised in Turkey.

The PKK recruits males and females and has deployed both all-female and mixed fighting units. When it has used suicide bombers the organisation has tended to prefer females. This is partly because male members of the Turkish security forces are usually reluctant to search a woman (there are relatively few female members of the Turkish security forces) and a woman's ability to strap a large quantity of explosives to her body and pretend that she is pregnant. Police interrogations of captured would-be PKK female suicide bombers strongly suggest that many have been coerced, often as an alternative to execution for an alleged disciplinary offence.

Kurdish protesters wave flags of Abdullah Ocalan in Frankfurt on 22 March 2003. About 15,000 Kurds marched to show their solidarity with their kin in northern Iraq and Turkey. They also called for the freeing of Ocalan. (EMPICS)


Area of operation TOP

The main area of PKK operations is in southeast Turkey, where it conducts a rural insurgency targeting the Turkish security forces and state officials and institutions. It has also carried out assassinations and bombings in most large cities in Turkey and, in summer 2004, 2005 and 2006, conducted bombing campaigns in Istanbul and in tourist areas along Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.

The PKK has also carried out a number of attacks on Turkish targets in Europe, such as diplomatic missions and local offices of Turkish banks. Assassinations of suspected informants, critics of Ocalan inside and outside the PKK and members of potential rival organisations have been conducted in Turkey, northern Iraq and Europe. In recent years, the PKK's policy of eliminating potential rivals has focused on the Patriotic Democratic Party (Partîya Welatparêzê Demokratên: PWD), a non-violent organisation which was established by former members of the PKK who refused to accept Ocalan's order to resume the armed struggle in June 2004. In July 2005, the PKK assassinated Hikmet Fidan, a leading member of the PWD in Turkey. In February 2006, Faysal Dunlayici (better known by his nom de guerre of Kani Yilmaz) was assassinated by the PKK in northern Iraq.

Guerrilla unit of the PKK training in the Kandil Mountains, near the border of Iran. (EMPICS)


Operational preparedness TOP

Equipment

Operatives communicate through shortwave radios, satellite phones and cell-phones, mostly without the use of scramblers but using code names. The PKK also makes extensive use of computer networks and the Internet for communications between units in the Qandil mountains and to maintain links with its supporters and propaganda outlets in western Europe.

Training

The PKK maintains its own training camps in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq where recruits are given basic military training, including weapons familiarisation and guerrilla warfare tactics.

PKK members also undergo ideological training, indoctrination and political education. For militants recruited from the Kurdish diaspora in Europe this usually takes place in Europe (typically in Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium) before they are sent to northern Iraq for military training. For a time in the late 1990s, the PKK also had an ideological training centre just outside Athens. However, this was closed following Ocalan's capture in 1999. Despite receiving intensive ideological training, militants do not appear to be highly ideologically motivated.

In the past, elements of the Syrian military assisted with the training of PKK militants in camps in Syria and the Beqaa Valley. Turkish intelligence reports claimed that the PKK received training from outside the organisation for the use of more sophisticated weaponry, such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs) which the PKK used to down several Turkish helicopters in the late 1990s. However, there is no evidence that the PKK has used SAMs since the resumption of its armed campaign in June 2004. Currently, virtually all of its military training appears to be led by the organisation's own members.

There has been no indication that the PKK has acquired sophisticated bomb-making expertise. The bomb-making skills and techniques used in both the rural insurgency in southeast Turkey and the urban bombing campaign in the west of the country remain rudimentary. Accidents and premature detonations in PKK/TAK bomb-making factories in western Turkey remain commonplace.

PKK militants receive almost no training in tradecraft or anti-interrogation techniques. The former, combined with high levels of penetration of PKK sympathisers by the Turkish intelligence services, has meant that a large number of attacks planned for western Turkey are intercepted and prevented before they can be realised. Members of the security forces responsible for interrogating captured PKK suspects report that they talk more easily than members of any other militant group in Turkey.

PKK guerrillas train in the Kandil mountains, northern Iraq (EMPICS)

Weaponry

PKK guerrillas are armed with AK-47 assault rifles, land mines, hand grenades and explosives. During the 1984-1999 campaign, their wider arsenal included anti-tank weapons, rocket launchers, anti-aircraft missiles and flamethrowers. However, these have not featured prominently in the current phase of the insurgency. Although the PKK still retains some limited stocks of such weaponry, most of it is believed to have been acquired in the 1990s and to be in a poor state of repair.

PKK operations since June 2004 have demonstrated that the PKK has a large supply of explosives, mostly A4 and C4.

Limiting factors TOP

Internal fragmentation

Ocalan has traditionally demanded total obedience from the PKK membership. Criticism and dissent has been harshly punished, often by the death penalty. Nevertheless, Ocalan's capture and subsequent incarceration on the prison island of Imrali enabled several leading members of the PKK to extend their powerbases within the organisation, albeit within the context of overall obedience to Ocalan.

At the opening of the PKK congress in the Qandil mountains in May 2004, the majority of delegates were opposed to a resumption of the armed struggle, arguing that the organisation was still too weak militarily to confront the Turkish security forces on the battlefield and that a return to violence would seriously damage its credibility, particularly in Europe, at a time when it was trying to have itself removed from EU and US lists of terrorist organisations and portray itself as the internationally acceptable representative of Turkey's Kurds and an essential political interlocutor in any attempt to solve the Kurdish problem.

However, Ocalan had become increasingly frustrated at the Turkish state's continuing refusal to ease the conditions of his isolation on Imrali and was concerned that the emergence of a number of political groupings in southeastern Turkey, many of them established by political figures who had previously been sympathetic to the PKK, was eroding the organisation's claim to be the sole representative of Kurdish nationalism. When two of Ocalan's lawyers arrived in the Qandil mountains with an order for the congress to pass a resolution advocating a resumption of violence most of the delegates complied. However, a number of leading figures, including veteran field commanders and even Ocalan's younger brother Osman Ocalan, continued to oppose the return to the armed struggle and broke away to form the Patriotic Democratic Party (Partîya Welatparêzê Demokratên: PWD).

Based in northern Iraq, the PWD advocates the pursuit of greater cultural rights for Turkey's Kurds by non-violent means. Initially, many argued that the PWD represented the views of the majority of the PKK's members and supporters and that its formation had left only a rump of marginalised hardliners in the Qandil mountains. There was also speculation that the PWD and other Kurdish political groupings emerging inside Turkey would form an alliance. However, since June 2004 it has been the PWD which has become marginalised. It remains banned by the Turkish authorities and has failed to attract a substantial public following inside Turkey. It has also been ruthlessly persecuted by the PKK. Murat Karayilan, the president of the KKK executive committee, has reportedly issued orders for the assassination of all of the PWD leadership. In July 2005, the PKK shot Hikmet Fidan, a leading member of the PWD in Turkey. In February 2006, Faysal Dunlayici (better known by his nom de guerre of Kani Yilmaz) was assassinated by the PKK in northern Iraq. Osman Ocalan recently announced that he was withdrawing from political activity.

None of the various Kurdish political groupings that were established in 2004 and 2005 have succeeded in establishing an extensive powerbase in Turkey. This is partly because they have all come under pressure from both the Turkish state and the PKK and partly because of a lack of a coherent vision, personal rivalries and limited funding and organisational experience. On the contrary, the return to violence strengthened internal cohesion within the PKK and enabled Murat Karayilan to increase his influence inside the organisation.

Rival groups

The PKK has traditionally attacked any organisation it perceives to be a potential rival to its claim to be the sole representative of Kurdish nationalism. During the early 1990s it fought Turkish Hizbullah, a radical Islamist group primarily comprised of Turkish Kurds. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Turkish Hizbullah built up an increasingly powerful urban cell network in southeast Turkey at a time when the PKK was attempting to open a urban front in parallel to its rural insurgency. Tensions between the two groups exploded into full-scale war after the PKK massacred 11 members of Turkish Hizbullah in a mosque in the village of Yolac in the Turkish southeastern province of Diyarbakir in June 1992. Over the next three years an estimated 600 militants were killed in clashes between the two groups, with PKK losses outnumbering those of Turkish Hizbullah by a ratio of around three to one.

The PKK often claimed that the Turkish Hizbullah was created and controlled by the Turkish state. While this is inaccurate, there is considerable evidence that for several years Turkish Hizbullah was able to conduct a campaign of assassination of suspected PKK members and sympathisers without fear of judicial sanction. There is also evidence of a degree of cooperation between individual members of the security forces and local Turkish Hizbullah militants, particularly in the sharing of intelligence related to the identification of Kurds with PKK sympathies. The fighting between Turkish Hizbullah and the PKK ceased in 1995. Claims that the two organisations signed a peace agreement have subsequently been vigorously rejected by PKK commanders active in the region at that time. Nonetheless, it seems that there was at least a tacit understanding that the PKK would abandon its attempts to launch an urban front in southeast Turkey and concentrate on its rural insurgency.

Turkish Hizbullah's leader Huseyin Velioglu was killed in firefight with Turkish police in Istanbul in January 2000 after he had attempted to expand the organisation's field of operations into western Turkey. Data found in the safe house used by Velioglu enabled the Turkish security forces to overrun the organisation's cell network. Although the cell network has now been reconstituted, Turkish Hizbullah's new leadership (based in Germany) has to date refrained from a return to violence and is not currently viewed by the PKK as a potential threat.

The PKK has consistently attempted to intimidate and influence political parties active in southeast Turkey, particularly those which are predominantly composed of Kurds. This strategy, combined with the Turkish state's refusal to provide protection to Kurdish politicians on the grounds that they are potential separatists, has made it very difficult for any Kurdish politician to operate independently of the PKK and very dangerous for any Kurdish politician to criticise the organisation publicly. Even if some of their leaders are privately opposed to the PKK, all predominantly Kurdish political parties have been heavily infiltrated by the organisation and, at a grassroots level, serve as platforms for PKK propaganda and as conduits for volunteers wishing to join the organisation.

External Assistance TOP

Funding TOP

During the 1980s and 1990s the PKK had three main sources of funds:

Income from the sales of publications and other fund-raising activities and donations, from Kurds in Turkey and the Kurdish diaspora in Europe
Revenue from criminal activity, including income from activities conducted by the organisation itself (such as robberies, extortion, human and narcotics trafficking) and tithes levied on criminal activities by the Kurdish underworld (particularly the lucrative heroin trade into Europe, a substantial proportion of which is controlled by the Kurdish mafia)
Funding from sympathetic governments.
In the mid-1990s, elements connected with the Turkish state conducted a series of assassinations of leading members of the Kurdish underworld believed to be donating money to the PKK, a strategy publicly defended by then-prime minister Tansu Ciller. However, the authorities have subsequently adopted a more low-key approach, privately warning major donors to the organisation rather than using violence or prosecuting them.

The withdrawal of virtually all of the PKK's foreign governmental sponsors in the late 1990s (most critically Syria) and a crackdown by law enforcement agencies on the organisation's fundraising activities in Europe have severely restricted the PKK's financial resources.

Nevertheless, the PKK is still able to raise funds in Europe, albeit at a reduced level compared with the 1990s. It also continues to derive income from its own criminal activities and from tithes levied on the activities of the Kurdish underworld. No reliable figures are available but these funds appear sufficient for the organisation to continue to finance its activities at their current level but not enough to be able to escalate the conflict through the equipment of a larger number of militants or the procurement of a large arsenal of sophisticated weaponry.

Alliances TOP

During the late 1980s and 1990s, the PKK established contacts with a number of other militant groups, particularly those leftist and nationalist organisations which also had a presence in Lebanon at the time. There is evidence to suggest that these contacts sometimes included the exchange of expertise and information related to sources of weaponry, documentation and the clandestine transportation of arms and militants to Lebanon or Syria and the conflict zone in Turkey. However, there appears to have been little operational cooperation.

PKK camps in the Beqaa were located next to a training camp run by the Turkish leftist group Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi/Cephesi: DHKP/C). In 1996, the PKK signed a protocol with the DHKP/C aimed at building a united revolutionary front against the government in Ankara, combining the DHKP/C's urban cell network and PKK's strength in rural areas. However, the two organisations did not stage any joint operations and the sharing of intelligence was hampered by mutual suspicions of penetration of the both organisations by the Turkish intelligence services. The alliance quickly broke down and was finally formally dissolved in 1998 with the DHKP/C accusing the PKK of being too focused on particularist nationalism rather than transnational revolution.

The PKK currently has close links with the Kurdistan Free Life Party (Partiya Jiyana Azada Kurdistanê: PJAK), a militant group of Iranian Kurds which also has training camps in northern Iraq.

During the 1990s, Iran often tolerated the presence of PKK units in the mountains along its border with Turkey, allowing militants to move freely within the country and providing healthcare facilities for militants wounded in clashes with the Turkish security forces. However, there is no evidence to suggest that it provided the PKK with substantial military, logistical or financial support. The rise of Kurdish separatist sentiment within Iran, fears that the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 would eventually lead to the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and a desire to cultivate Turkey to reduce Tehran's international isolation, combined to produce a change in Iranian policy towards the PKK. During a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran in July 2004, Iran designated the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

Iran has subsequently been more aggressive than any of Turkey's other neighbours in cracking down on PKK activity in its territory, sharing intelligence on the PKK and arresting and extraditing to Turkey more than 50 suspected PKK militants. In April 2006, the Iranian army launched a military operation against PJAK and PKK units in the mountains of southwest Iran. The operation followed discussions between Turkish and Iranian security officials and coincided with the deployment of 150,000 extra Turkish troops into southeast Turkey. In late August 2006, both Turkey and Iran launched apparently coordinated artillery and mortar attacks on camps belonging to the PKK and PJAK respectively.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the PKK formed temporary alliances with both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (Partiya Demokrat a Kurdistanê: KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Yakêtî Nîstimanî Kurdistan: PUK), although never at the same time. However, in the mid-1990s, the KDP began cooperating with the Turkish state, providing intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq and providing logistical and military support when the Turkish security forces launched cross-border operations against PKK camps in northern Iraq. In return, Turkey provided the KDP with financial support and some weaponry. Turkey also frequently donated weaponry and supplies captured from the PKK to KDP forces, which it then used in its long-running feud with the PUK.

The PKK camps in the Qandil mountains are currently located in PUK controlled territory. There are frequent contacts between PUK officials and members of the PKK. However, the leadership of both the KDP and the PUK now see the PKK as a potential challenge to their authority in northern Iraq and as a potential pretext for a cross-border incursion by the Turkish military. Even so, strong levels of popular sympathy for the PKK among Iraqi Kurds and the limited military capabilities of the KDP and PUK mitigate against a concerted attempt to drive the PKK out of northern Iraq.

Turkish security sources claim that Iraqi Kurdish officials sympathetic to the PKK provide the organisation with intelligence on the movements of Turkish troops and suspected intelligence operatives. They hold Iraqi Kurds responsible for providing the intelligence which enabled assailants, widely believed to be members of the PKK, to ambush a convoy of vehicles travelling through northern Iraq in December 2004. The vehicles were carrying the members of what was to be the security detail for the newly reopened Turkish embassy in Baghdad. Five serving members of the Turkish security forces were killed in the ambush.

Under pressure from both Turkey and the US, in summer 2006 the Iraqi authorities outlawed the Democratic Solution Party of Kurdistan (Partiya Careseriya Demokratika Kurdistan: PCDK), which had been established by the PKK in April 2002 to conduct political activities in Iraq. The PCDK even participated in the January 2005 elections for the regional assembly in northern Iraq, winning 0.52 per cent of the total vote. The PCDK's representative office in Baghdad was closed down by the central government in June 2006. However, the authorities in northern Iraq were initially reluctant to move against the party's offices in the territory under their control for fear of triggering a confrontation with the PKK. It was not until early September 2006 that the PCDK's last office in northern Iraq, in Sulaimaniyah, was closed down and the party's leader, Faik Gulpi, taken into custody.

Sources of weapons TOP

During the 1984-1999 campaign the PKK sourced most of its weapons from the international black market, although there is evidence to suggest that some of its weapons were procured with the active support of countries sympathetic to the organisation, particularly Syria. Elements in the security forces in Greece, Cyprus, Armenia and Russia are also believed to have played a facilitating role, albeit with varying degrees of knowledge and approval of their governments. The regime of Saddam Hussein is thought to have occasionally supplied the PKK with weapons and funding in return for support as Baghdad attempted to play the two Kurdish factions in northern Iraq against each other. There is also evidence to suggest that Syria also sometimes donated weaponry to the PKK, in addition to providing extensive logistical support. However, PKK arms depots seized by Turkish security forces in Turkey and northern Iraq suggested that the majority of the PKK's weapons were old and of poor quality.

Since the withdrawal of Syrian support, the PKK's relative isolation in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq has made it more difficult for the organisation to source weapons from the international market. Since June 2004, most of the PKK's new acquisitions of weapons appear to have been from the local black market in Iraq, particularly from stocks which formerly belonged to Saddam Hussein's army.

Foreign bases TOP

During the 1984-1999 campaign, the PKK had military training bases in the Beqaa Valley, Syria and northern Iraq, with ideological training and indoctrination bases in Greece and western Europe, primarily in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Some PKK units operated out of Iran, although the camps on Iranian territory were mainly used for rest and recuperation rather than for military or ideological training. The PKK also had a presence in the Caususus, Russia, North America and most countries in Europe, where sympathisers conducted propaganda and fundraising activities.

Since 1999, the PKK's only permanent military bases have been in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq. Turkish intelligence reports indicate that there are still PKK personnel in camps in Syria but these camps are no longer directly involved in the conflict and that the small number of PKK members in them are essentially remnants from the 1990s. However, the PKK has maintained a presence in most European countries and continues to conduct ideological training and indoctrination and propaganda activities in areas where there is a large Kurdish population.

PKK camps in the Qandil mountains are located in an area which is effectively beyond the control of the northern Iraqi authorities. The PKK maintains checkpoints on all roads into the area and the camps themselves are scattered through more than 30 villages which are under the organisation's control. In addition to training facilities, the PKK has also built a hospital, two schools, canteens, laundries, administrative buildings and two small hydroelectric dams to supply electricity. The mountainous terrain and the location of the buildings in places which are difficult to target either with artillery or from the air meant that they suffered only minimal damage in an artillery bombardment by the Turkish authorities in late August 2006.

PKK guerrilla unit in the Kandil mountains near the border with Iran. (EMPICS)


Group Structure and Logistics TOP

Organisation TOP

In February 2005, Ocalan announced a reconstruction of the PKK and the creation of the Kurdish Democratic Federation (Koma Komalen Kurdistan: KKK). The KKK is a supra-national pyramidical structure of representative committees and assemblies culminating in the People's Congress of Kurdistan (Kongra Gelê Kurdistan: KONGRA-GEL), which serves as the legislature. In theory, the KKK includes Kurds throughout the region and exists in parallel to the laws and governmental structures of the different states in which they live, thus obviating the need for Kurdish autonomy or independence. However, no representative committees or assemblies have been formed outside the PKK, either inside Turkey or amongst Kurdish communities in other countries. Even if they were to be formed, it remains unclear how conflicts between the laws and regulations of the KKK and those of the states in which they reside could be resolved.

Fighting units belong to the People's Defence Force (Hezen Parastina Gel: HPG). The HPG is divided into regional commands. Each unit is relatively small, comprising at most 15-20 militants under a unit commander. During its 1984-1999 campaign, the PKK occasionally conducted large-scale operations involving up to 500 militants. However since 2004, almost all operations have been on a single-unit basis. Conditions on the ground in the mountains of southeast Turkey and the difficulty of communications (combined with the relative ease with which radio and cellphone traffic can be intercepted) have meant that unit commanders have been able to exercise considerable operational autonomy.

The militants responsible for the bombing campaign in western Turkey operate in small cells, or even as individuals, under the command of the organisation leadership in the Qandil mountains. These militants are usually trained in northern Iraq and sent overland to their area of operation. Once in place they appear to enjoy considerable operational autonomy and have little contact with other cells, their commanders in the Qandil mountains or PKK members and supporters in the area.

In theory, there are no restrictions on other organisations or groups contributing personnel to the representative committees and assemblies in the KKK, KONGRA-GEL or the HPG. In practice, they are all staffed exclusively by member of the PKK.

Similarly, in theory, power in the KKK flows up through the hierarchy. In practice, it is imposed from the top down. Although Ocalan's only titular position is as honorary president of the PKK, he has retained sole responsibility for the organisation's ideology and for determining its strategic objectives and the methods it uses to try to achieve them.

In practice, overall control of the day-to-day running of the PKK is handled by the KKK executive committee, operating within the parameters set by Ocalan. The KKK executive committee is dominated by members of the HPG. Until relatively recently the influence exerted by members of the committee varied according to the strength of their powerbase within the organisation. However, Murat Karayilan, the president of the executive committee, has now emerged as the dominant figure and the main determinant of PKK policy within the strategic parameters set by Ocalan.

Political/Religious representation TOP

The PKK was founded as a Marxist-Leninist group, espousing worldwide Marxist revolution and standard Maoist tactics (guerrilla warfare, 'people's war'). Its original goal was to establish a left-wing Kurdish state which would serve as a platform for the dissemination of Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the creation of a series of allied Marxist-Leninist states, throughout the Middle East.

In the late 1980s, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the worldwide retreat of Marxist-Leninism resulted in the PKK downplaying, though not officially renouncing, Marxist-Leninism in favour of a stronger focus on Kurdish nationalism. This process was reflected both in the PKK's rhetoric and propaganda and in its use of imagery as Marxist-Leninist symbols were removed from the organisation's insignia. The continuing high levels of Islamic piety amongst the Kurdish population also resulted in the PKK relaxing its emphasis on atheism and beginning to cultivate rather than attack local religious leaders. However, the PKK has stopped short of advocating religion or inculcating Islamic sentiments during the political and ideological training of its militants. Most of the PKK's leadership is comprised of atheists.

The PKK also reflects the continuing strength of tribal culture in southeast Turkey. Ocalan has actively encouraged a cult of personal loyalty to himself which transcends any political theory. PKK militants are taught that Ocalan embodies the Kurdish national cause. Ocalan's capture, imprisonment and isolation on the prson island of Imrali has arguably enhanced the reverence with which he is regarded in the organisation, adding a mystique to his already iconic status. For the mass of PKK militants, sympathisers and supporters, this fusion of personality cult and Kurdish nationalism now provide their primary ideological motivation.

Information campaigns TOP

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the PKK relied primarily on newspapers, magazines, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and predominantly Kurdish political parties to disseminate information and recruit militants. A number of newspapers and magazines with close links to the PKK, which sometimes included opinion pieces written by Ocalan himself under a variety of pseudonyms, were banned by the Turkish courts (only to subsequently reopen under other names). Frustration at the courts' inability to prevent the flow of PKK propaganda led to death squads affiliated with some elements in the security forces conducting a campaign of intimidation, bombing and assassination against journalists, distributors and premises associated with pro-PKK publications.

In recent years, the emphasis of the PKK's propaganda activities has shifted from the print media to television and the Internet; not least because they are more difficult for the authorities to control. PKK sympathisers have established a number of satellite television channels operating out of western Europe and broadcasting to Turkey. The first such channel was MED TV, which operated out of London in the mid-1990s after securing a licence to broadcast cultural programmes. However, following vigorous protests from Turkey at the highly politicised pro-PKK content of much of MED TV's programming, the British authorities refused to renew the channel's licence. MED TV moved to France, where it suffered a similar fate, and eventually to Belgium. Currently the most watched PKK-linked channel is Roj TV, which is based in Denmark and frequently has exclusive interviews with PKK commanders. The Turkish government has been lobbying Denmark to close Roj TV. But to date these efforts have been unsuccessful, not least because of difficulties in proving that Roj TV is controlled by, rather than just sympathetic to, the PKK. The channel has also been careful to avoid any explicit incitement to violence.

Viewing figures for pro-PKK television channels are difficult to assess. However, the beginning of broadcasts by MED TV was followed by a massive growth in the number of satellite dishes appearing on the roofs of even relatively impoverished dwellings across southeast Turkey. The popularity of the pro-PKK channels is probably partly attributable to the dearth of broadcasting in Kurdish. In June 2006 the Turkish authorities removed a limit of 45 minutes a day on broadcasts in Kurdish by terrestrial channels in Turkey. However, bureaucratic obstacles, severe restrictions on content and the limited financial resources of Kurdish broadcasters in Turkey are likely to mean that, even with the lifting of the 45 minute rule, they will continue to find it difficult to compete with channels such as Roj TV.

The PKK currently makes extensive use of the internet as a means of disseminating propaganda. There have been a number of court orders demanding that Turkish Internet service providers block access to specific pro-PKK sites. But these have only had a temporary impact as the PKK has simply circumvented the ban by setting up mirror sites. Similarly, a circular issued by the Turkish Ministry of the Interior making all Internet cafe owners liable for prosecution if any of their customers access a pro-PKK site has proved very difficult to enforce. More effective have been efforts, both by Turkish intelligence agencies and private groups of Turkish nationalists, to hack into pro-PKK sites and disable them. However, such efforts have been opposed by some elements in the Turkish intelligence community who monitor pro-PKK sites to supplement intelligence gathered from their agents in the organisation.

Background Information TOP

Leader biographies TOP

Despite his incarceration on the prison island of Imrali since 1999, Abdullah Öcalan continues to serve as honorary president of the PKK and sets overall strategy for the organisation, communicating with the camps in northern Iraq through his lawyers. The executive committee of the KKK under the presidency of Murat Karayilan is responsible for the day-to-day running of the PKK within the strategic parameters set by Ocalan.

Abdullah Öcalan

Öcalan was born into a peasant family near the town of Urfa on the Turkish-Syrian border in 1948. Even though he has become the symbol of Kurdish nationalism to PKK supporters, Öcalan is of mixed origin. His mother was an ethnic Turk and Öcalan grew up in a Turcophone environment. He still uses Turkish as his main language and has only a rudimentary command of Kurdish.

Öcalan studied political science at Ankara University, which is where he first became actively involved in left-wing politics. In 1974, a number of Kurdish members of the leftist Ankara Higher Education Association (Ankara Yuksek Ogrenim Dernegi: AYOD) broke away to form their own group known as the National Liberation Army (Ulusal Kurtulus Ordusu: UKO) and elected Öcalan as their leader. On 27 November 1978, Öcalan announced that the UKO had changed its name to the PKK. Initially, the Öcalan concentrated primarily on propaganda activities to try to discredit what he saw as rival leftist and Kurdish groups. Öcalan also used violence and has been implicated in the murder of one of his rivals in 1977.

Öcalan was forced to flee Turkey following the military coup of 1980. He took refuge in the Beqaa Valley where he established a PKK training camp. The PKK launched its insurgency on 15 August 1984 with attacks on the villages on Eruh and Semdinli in southeast Turkey in which two police officers were killed. However, Öcalan has never engaged in combat. Between 1980 and 1998, he divided his time between the Beqaa Valley and Syria. From the mid-1990s onwards, he was based in a villa in Damascus from where he issued orders to PKK units in the field, often communicating directly with commanders by radio.

During the mid-1990s, the Turkish security forces gradually seized the initiative in southeast Turkey. In 1998, with the PKK in retreat on the battlefield, Turkey turned its attention to Syria. In early October 1998, the Turkish military massed 10,000 troops on the border with Syria and threatened to invade unless the Syrian government expelled Öcalan and withdrew its support for the PKK. On 9 October 1998, Öcalan was expelled and took refuge in Russia. The US was able to monitor his movements through his use of a satellite telephone and informed the Turkish authorities of his whereabouts. Turkey applied pressure to the Russian government and Öcalan was expelled from Russia.

After initially trying to take refuge in the Netherlands, Öcalan arrived in Rome on 13 November 1998 and was immediately arrested by the Italian authorities. After two months of legal proceedings, the Italians failed to grant either Öcalan's request for political asylum or Ankara's demand that he be extradited to Turkey. On 16 January 1999, Öcalan left Italy. After a failed attempt to take refuge in Russia he arrived in Athens where contacts within the Greek intelligence services arranged for him to be transported to the Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. However, his movements were tracked by the US, which informed Turkey of his new location. When it learned of Öcalan's whereabouts, on 15 February 1999 the Greek government ordered its ambassador in Kenya to expel Öcalan from the embassy. Öcalan was delivered by Kenyan officials to a team of Turkish special forces sent to Nairobi and brought back to Turkey to face trial, arriving on 16 February 1999.

Film footage shot on the plane back to Turkey and distributed by the Turkish authorities showed a clearly heavily-sedated Öcalan pleading with his captors not to torture him and offering to serve the Turkish state. At his trial, Öcalan faced the death penalty. He defended himself, delivering a humble, rambling and often barely coherent defence of the PKK's campaign. Initially, the image of their leader almost begging for his life had a devastating impact on morale in the PKK. However, many militants later convinced themselves that Öcalan's unimpressive performance was the result of drugs administered by the Turkish authorities, similar to those used to sedate him on the flight from Nairobi to Turkey.

Öcalan was found guilty of multiple charges of insurrection on 29 June 1999 and sentenced to death. The punishment was automatically commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished the death penalty in August 2002. Since 1999, Öcalan has been the sole inmate on the prison island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara. He is kept in isolation and can only communicate with the outside world through visits from relatives and his lawyers. However, he has continued to determine strategy for the PKK from his prison cell, communicating with the organisation through his lawyers, conversations which are both monitored by the Turkish intelligence service and published on the Internet by pro-PKK websites.

Öcalan's isolation has arguably enhanced the reverence with which he is regarded by PKK members, adding a mystique to his already iconic status and endowing him with the image of a living martyr.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, February 2002 (EMPICS)


Overview of campaign TOP

Background to the Kurdish issue

The predominantly Kurdish areas of the Ottoman empire enjoyed considerable local autonomy under local tribal chieftains owing nominal loyalty to the sultan in Istanbul. There is no evidence of any Kurdish national consciousness until deep into the 20th century. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Sèvres (the original peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and the victorious allies at the end of World War One) envisaged the creation of an independent Kurdish state in Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Kurds fought alongside Turks in the 1919-1922 Turkish War of Independence against an invading Greek army, after which the Turks were able to renegotiate improved peace terms in the Treaty of Lausanne.

In the wake of the Turkish War of Independence, Mustafa Kemal, the commander of the Turkish forces, promised the Kurds an equal share in the new state which would be founded to replace the Ottoman Empire. However, he not only reneged on this promise by establishing an explicitly Turkish nation state in 1923 but further offended the often deeply pious Kurds by embedding the principle of secularism in the new state's constitution. Kurdish language and culture were rigorously suppressed and Islamic religious orders, which were particularly influential in Kurdish areas, were banned.

The result was a series of rebellions during the period 1924-1938 in which an emerging Kurdish national consciousness mixed to varying degrees with Islamist sentiments and resentment at the efforts of the central government to impose its authority on the Kurdish tribes and their leaders. All of the rebellions were crushed, often with considerable loss of life and widespread hardship. During the early years of the Cold War, the Turkish state pursued a policy of active neglect towards the predominantly Kurdish provinces of eastern and southeastern Turkey, partly in an attempt to prevent the creation of material and intellectual resources that could be used to fuel separatist sentiments and partly for fear that development, including an efficient transportation infrastructure, would accelerate the advance of any invading Soviet army.

However, the lack of development meant that the population remained culturally isolated, while low levels of education and literacy perpetuated the continued use of the Kurdish language, whose three main dialects all belong to the Indo-European family of languages and are radically different to Turkish, which belongs to the Altaic language group. Underdevelopment also resulted in a higher birthrate than in the more developed west of Turkey. No reliable figures are available but ethnic Kurds are currently estimated to account for 20 per cent of Turkey's total population of 75 million and the share is continuing to rise. A high birthrate has also triggered large-scale migration to the cities of western Turkey. Although Diyarbakir is the largest city in southeast Turkey with a total population of around 1.5 million, there are currently estimated to be at least 3 million ethnic Kurds among the 12-13 million inhabitants of Istanbul, Turkey's largest metropolis.

The first PKK insurgency (1984-1999)

Suppression of Kurdish language and culture intensified after the 1980 military coup. Any reference to the word 'Kurdish' was banned and even speaking the language was outlawed. Officially even Kurds did not exist but were 'mountain Turks' who had temporarily forgotten their true ethnic Turkish origins.

As a result, the PKK initially attracted considerable public support amongst Turkey's Kurds. Although many disagreed with the PKK's leftist and atheistic ideology, the launch of the organisation's insurgency in August 1984 was seen as asserting a Kurdish identity in the face of the denial of such an identity by the Turkish state. At first, the Turkish government underestimated the threat from the PKK. However, as PKK activity intensified, in 1985 the government established a militia known as 'village guards', recruited from the local populace to supplement the state security forces.

During the late 1980s, in addition to staging attacks on the state institutions, officials and the security forces, the PKK also began targeting the families of those who had joined the village guards, carrying out a series of massacres of women and children. The organisation eventually abandoned the policy when it was realised that it was alienating more of the Kurdish civilian population than it was intimidating. The PKK also began assassinating teachers in state schools in the region on the grounds that they were inculcating state propaganda. Villages which refused to join the village guard system risked being labelled as PKK sympathisers by the state security forces. Torture, human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings by elements linked to the state became commonplace.

By the early 1990s, the PKK had around 8,000 militants under arms in the field and effectively controlled large swathes of the countryside in southeast Turkey after dark. It could rely on considerable logistical support from the rural population, sometimes through intimidation but more frequently through sympathy. However, the PKK's attempts to open a second front in the cities in southeastern Turkey proved unsuccessful, partly because of opposition from Turkish Hizbullah and partly because urban cell networks were much easier for the security forces to penetrate. In 1991, death squads affiliated with elements in the security forces began an assassination campaign against known or suspected PKK sympathisers. Most, though not all, of the killings took place in cities and towns.

The PKK benefited from the establishment by the US-led coalition forces of a safe haven for the Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War. Turkey's border with Syria mostly runs across a flat ground, is heavily mined and relatively easy to secure. However, the border between Turkey and Iraq runs through very difficult mountainous terrain and has traditionally been relatively porous. Initially, the PKK's main training camps remained in Syria and the Syrian-controlled Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. But from 1991 onwards it was able to establish forward bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, thus shortening its supply lines to its active units inside Turkey. The PKK was also able to benefit from the limited military capabilities and internal divisions of the Iraqi Kurds, playing one faction off against the other, confident in the knowledge that neither was strong enough on its own to confront the organisation.

In 1992-1994, Ocalan attempted to move the insurgency into a new phase by ordering mass attacks, including up to 500 militants, against military outposts in southeastern Turkey. The strategy failed. Even if the PKK was able to inflict heavy casualties, and even occasionally overrun the outpost, this initial success was more than offset by the Turkish military's ability to mobilise a rapid response, particularly by dispatching helicopters which were able to inflict heavy casualties on a relatively large and exposed group of militants. At the time, the PKK had no defence against air attack, such as no shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

The use of helicopters, particularly AH-1 Cobras purchased from the US, marked the beginning of a shift in the initiative away from the PKK towards the Turkish security forces. The military began to go on the offensive, improving intelligence and training, launching search and destroy patrols and making greater use of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, mainly US-supplied F-16s, to strike at known PKK positions and the organisation's camps in northern Iraq. The Turkish security forces also burned and evacuated an estimated 3,500 villages in southeastern Turkey, displacing over two million people, in order to deprive PKK units of potential logistical support. Cross-border incursions into northern Iraq intensified, culminating in the deployment of 35,000 troops in March 1995. The troops were withdrawn within a few months, although a brigade remained deployed just inside Iraqi territory to gather intelligence and monitor PKK movements. Such raids rarely resulted in high casualties amongst the PKK as the militants were able to flee deeper into the mountains. But they did allow the Turkish military to cause considerable logistical disruption by seizing stores of food and weaponry.

In 1994, the PKK launched a bombing campaign against the Turkish tourism industry but abandoned it when it became clear that the benefits of the resultant higher international public profile were more than offset by the negative image it gave the organisation and practical consequences such as a crackdown by law enforcement agencies in Europe on PKK fundraising activities amongst the Kurdish diaspora.

In 1997, the PKK began using shoulder-launched SAMs against Turkish helicopters but were unable reverse the decline in the group's fortunes on the battlefield. By 1998, the Turkish military had regained control over most of southeast Turkey, confining the PKK to sporadic attacks and the most inaccessible mountain areas. The Turkish authorities then turned their attention to Syria, amassing 10,000 troops on the country's border with Syria and threatening to invade unless the government in Damascus expelled Ocalan and withdrew its support for the PKK.

The PKK continued to conduct operations following Ocalan's expulsion from Syria on 9 October 1998 and his capture and return to Turkey on 16 February 1999. However, Ocalan's flight and eventual imprisonment ruptured the chain of command within the organisation and severely damaged already falling morale. PKK activity continued at a relatively low level until August 1999 when Ocalan announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire starting 1 September 1999.

No independent figures are available but the Turkish authorities estimate that the 1984-1999 conflict cost 35,000 lives - approximately 25,000 PKK militants, 5,000 members of the Turkish security forces and 5,000 civilians. However, the death toll is probably higher, not least because the official Turkish figures do not include the many hundreds (and probably several thousands) of victims of extrajudicial killings by elements affiliated with the Turkish state.

Turkish soldiers make their way along the border as twelve battalions of troops backed by Cobra helicopters launched an operation in northern Iraq in June 1997 against the PKK. The operation was launched just south of the Turkish town of Semdinli. (EMPICS)

The second PKK insurgency (2004 to present)

During its five-year unilateral ceasefire, the PKK had kept around 5,000 members under arms and undergoing military training in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq. Initially, around 1,000-1,500 militants had stayed behind in the mountains of southeast Turkey, either in defiance of Ocalan's orders to evacuate Turkey or because they considered the long journey to the Iraqi border to be too vulnerable to attack by the Turkish security forces. Some later succeeded in making the journey. Others deserted or were killed in clashes with the Turkish military. By June 2004, approximately 500 PKK militants were believed still to be in Turkey.

Changes in the regional and global security environment in the period 1999-2001 had a marked impact on the PKK's capabilities. By 2004, the PKK could no longer rely on the active support of Syria and elements in the Greek security forces or on units seeking refuge in Iran. Neither of the Iraqi Kurdish factions in northern Iraq (the KDP and PUK) were strong enough to move against the PKK, but neither were they prepared to actively support the organisation. While law enforcement agencies had clamped down on the organisation's activities in Europe, severely restricting, though not preventing, the flow of funding and recruits.

In June 2004, approximately one third of the PKK militants in the Qandil mountains had joined the organisation since September 1999. Even so, the PKK's relative geographical and political isolation, combined with reduced revenue, had restricted its access to logistical support and arms, particularly more sophisticated weaponry. The organisation was further weakened by the decision to return to violence, which led to several leading commanders breaking away to form rival organisations, the most prominent of which was the Patriotic Democratic Party (Partîya Welatparêzê Demokratên: PWD). The PKK now appears more united and has been largely successful in marginalising rival groups, including through the use of violence.

Nevertheless, the PKK's relative military weakness compared with the 1990s has limited its operational options. Since June 2004, the PKK has pursued a two front strategy comprising a rural insurgency in southeastern Turkey and an urban bombing campaign in the west of the country. Both are primarily designed to exert political leverage in the hope of forcing concessions from the Turkish authorities rather than seizing territory or achieving a military victory. Two foreign tourists were killed in an attack on a hotel in Istanbul in August 2004. Two foreign tourists were also among the five people killed in the bombing of a minibus in the Aegean resort of Kusadasi in July 2005. In late 2005 and early 2006, the PKK also conducted attacked factories, filling stations and natural gas depots in Istanbul.

In March 2006 the Turkish military deployed an additional 150,000 troops into the region, taking the total number of Turkish soldiers in southeast Turkey to 250,000. The intention was to restrict the movements of PKK units and disrupt supply lines to the camps in northern Iraq. However, the PKK continued to carry out sporadic attacks in the countryside, mostly hit-and-run attacks, ambushes and the mining of roads used by the security forces. In late August, the Turkish military launched an artillery bombardment of PKK camps in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq. Iraqi Kurdish sources reported that the attacks did little damage to PKK units as they had already gone into hiding in the mountains. However, there were reports of civilian deaths in the villages under PKK control. The Turkish media reported that Turkish F-16s had also carried a
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