Kurdish fighters defy the world from mountain fortress as bombing begins

Turkey used its helicopters and artillery to attack Kurdish guerrillas inside northern Iraq yesterday as the Turkish army massed just north of the border. The helicopter gunships penetrated three miles into Iraqi territory and warplanes targeted mountain paths used by rebels entering Turkey.

Guerrilla commanders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were defiant in the face of an impending invasion. In an interview high in the Qandil mountains, Bozan Tekin, a PKK leader, said: "Even Alexander the Great couldn't bring this region under his rule." The PKK has its headquarters in the Qandil mountains, one of the world's great natural fortresses in the east of Iraqi Kurdistan, stretching south from the south-east tip of Turkey along the Iranian border. If Turkey, or anybody else, is to try to drive the PKK out of northern Iraq they would have to capture this bastion and it is unlikely they will succeed.

Despite threats of action by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the PKK leaders give no sense of feeling that their enemies were closing in.

For a guerrilla movement awaiting assault, the PKK's leaders are surprisingly easy to find. We drove east from Arbil for two-and-a-half hours and hired a four-wheel drive car in the village of Sangassar. Iraqi police wearing camouflage uniform were at work building a new outpost out of cement blocks beside the road leading into the mountains but only took our names.

In fact the four-wheel drive was hardly necessary because there is a military road constructed by Saddam Hussein's army in the 1980s which zig-zags along the side of a steep valley until it reaches the first PKK checkpoint. The PKK soldiers with Kalashnikovs and two grenades pinned to the front of their uniform were relaxed and efficient. In case anybody should have any doubt about who was in control there was an enormous picture of the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan picked out in yellow, black, white and red painted stones on a hill half a mile away and visible over a wide area.

There were no sign that threats from Mr Maliki in Baghdad or from the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, were having an effect. The PKK soldiers at a small guest house had not been expecting us but promptly got in touch with their local headquarters.

For all its nonchalance the PKK is facing a formidable array of enemies. The Iraqi government in Baghdad has no direct influence over the Kurdistan Regional Government, led by President Massoud Barzani whose administration is made up of his own Kurdistan Democratic Party and President Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. This is the only force capable of trying to eject the 3,000 PKK fighters.

So far the KRG shows no sign of doing so. One reason is that, paradoxically, the Turkish government will not talk to the KRG although it is the only Iraqi institution that might help it – Ankara is fearful of the growing strength of the KRG as a quasi-independent state on its borders.

So far the PKK is benefiting substantially from the crisis which started this summer when it began to make more attacks within Turkey. Instead of being politically marginalised in its hidden valleys, it is suddenly at the centre of international attention. This will help it try to rebuild its battered political base within Turkey where it suffered defeat in the 1990s and where its leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999.

Asked if the Turkish forces could inflict damage on the PKK, one of its fighters, called Intikam, said: "Three out of five of our fighters are hiding in the mountains in Turkey and, if the Turkish army cannot find them there, it will hardly find them in Iraq."

Bozan Tekin and Mizgin Amed, a woman who is also a member of the leadership, hotly deny they are "terrorists" and ask plaintively why there is not more attention given to Kurds who have been killed by the Turkish army. They add that they have been observing a ceasefire since since 1 October 2006 and fight in retaliation for Turkish attacks.

"Since then the Turks have launched 485 attacks on us," says Bozan Tekin. "Even an animal – any living thing – will fight when it feels it is in a dangerous situation," said Mizgin Amed. Both the PKK leaders were chary of giving details of last Sunday's ambush in which at least 16 Turkish soldiers were killed and eight captured. This is because the ambush is a little difficult to square with their defensive posture. But Bozan Tekin said that in reality "35 Turkish soldiers were killed and only three PKK fighters were lightly wounded. We did not lose anyone dead." He claimed that an attack on a minibus, which Turkey blamed on the PKK, was in fact carried out by Turkish soldiers on a Kurdish wedding party.

Overall, although it does not say so openly, the PKK would welcome a Turkish military invasion of northern Iraq because it would embroil Turkey with the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi army. It would also pose almost no threat to the PKK.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fund, London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fu...

Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Multicast, Low Latency

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Mul...

Network Infrastructure Engineer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Infrastructure Engineer (...

Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Multicast)

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Mult...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition