mardi 25 décembre 2007

Kurdish leaders fail to speak with one voice

Differences surfaced between the two main Iraqi Kurdish leaders at a press conference they held on Monday after a meeting to discuss a series of recent cross-border offensives carried out by the Turkish military against outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq.
Massoud Barzani, leader of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, chose strong words to condemn the cross-border attacks going on since Dec. 16, claiming that numerous Iraqi Kurds have died in the operations. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is also the leader of one of the main Kurdish political parties, however, was cautious in criticizing the Turkish military attacks, saying that Turkey had the right to defend itself against the terrorist threat.

"We understand Turkey defending itself against the terrorist organization," Talabani said, referring to the PKK, which uses bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkey.
"We are aware of Turkey's sensitivities. We are not remaining silent [in the face of Turkish military strikes], but we are not going to declare war, either."

The Iraqi president also said Iraq has delivered a diplomatic note to Turkey criticizing the cross-border attacks but added that the Iraqi side did not want to make a big issue out of it. "We want Turkey to extend its hand of friendship," he said, calling for a mid-way solution to the crisis.

Barzani drew ire in the Turkish media after he said Turkey's attacks on the Kandil Mountains, where the PKK's main command camps are located, were no different from an attack on Arbil or Sulaimaniya, the two biggest cities in Kurdish-run northern Iraq. The Kurdish leader also lent implicit support to the PKK, claiming that northern Iraq was target of the Turkish attacks because the residents there were Kurds.

Yesterday, Barzani said the Turkish operations were "unacceptable" and said he strongly condemned the attacks.

The meeting in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya was also attended by Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who also condemned the Turkish strikes in northern Iraq.

Responding to Barzani's remarks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey speaks to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, not the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, and underlined that the cross-border operations would continue.

"We refuse to engage in any polemic and are simply exercising our country's rights stemming from international law," Erdoğan told reporters when asked on Sunday night to comment on Barzani's remarks. "We have the determination [to fight the PKK]. Our determination will continue."

Iraqi Kurdish officials said Turkish fighter jets bombed PKK targets in northern Iraq on Sunday, but there was no confirmation of this from the Turkish military. Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga security forces, said the Turkish warplanes bombed an area about 85 kilometers north of Arbil near the border with Turkey on Sunday for about an hour and a half. He said there were no civilian casualties because the area was deserted due to fear of Turkish attacks.

If confirmed, it would be the fourth Turkish military operation against the PKK in the past week in northern Iraq.
On Dec. 16 the Turkish military said its aircraft attacked PKK positions in the Kandil Mountains, where thousands of the PKK terrorists are holed up. Two days later the Turkish army said troops penetrated into northern Iraq from the southeastern Turkish province of Hakkari in an operation Iraqi officials said about 500 troops took part in. On Saturday, the military announced in a statement that new aerial strikes had been made against PKK targets inside northern Iraq.
In the same statement, the military also said hundreds of the PKK terrorists were killed in the first attack on Dec. 16, although it was not possible to determine the exact number of PKK casualties due to difficulties of assessing damage in mountain caves.

The PKK, however, denied it had suffered any casualties from the aerial strikes or the troops' incursion in December.

Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, a senior member of the PKK, told Reuters the Turkish attacks had only killed five members of the anti-Iranian Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), an offshoot of the PKK.

Turkish news reports said as many as 300 terrorists were killed in the Dec. 16 attack. A report in daily Hürriyet said the PKK's main wireless station used for communication among its members in the region was also destroyed in the attacks.

Daily Zaman, reporting on Saturday's aerial strikes, said the attack had targeted a group of 40 PKK leaders who had fled the Kandil Mountain area in anticipation of further attacks by the Turkish military. In Saturday's attack, fighter jets bombed PKK targets in the Zap and Avashin camps near the border with Turkey for 35 minutes, according to the military. Senior PKK leaders, including Cemil Bayık and Murat Karayılan, are reportedly based in the area hit on Saturday.


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