Kurd guerrillas return to bases

Jerusalem - Turkish Kurd guerrillas are already returning to their old camps in northern Iraq - notably their stronghold in the Khwakurk valley - in the wake of the withdrawal of 20,000 Turkish soldiers over the last week, writes Patrick Cockburn.

Iraqi Kurds say the ability of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) units to move back so swiftly underlines the failure of the Turkish forces to inflict serious casualties on them.

Although the Turkish media portrayed the invasion on 20 March as leading to heavy fighting, there are few signs that Turkish troops ever seriously confronted the 2,500 PKK guerrillas reported to be in northern Iraq. Turkish officers on the ground admitted that even with their 35,000 troops they could not find their opponents in the mountains and gorges of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Turkish withdrawal started last Thursday, although Ankara waited several days before announcing it. Iraqi Kurdish sources say Turkish troops have pulled out of strategic positions in and around the Khwakurk valley close to the Iranian border

Turkey wants the Iraqi Kurds, grouped in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to police the border. In return, they would receive economic aid and weapons. But obstacles to this plan include the virtual civil war between the KDP and the PUK.