PKK tactics may drive Turkey into a reluctant invasion

Soon after midnight last Sunday, a detachment of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) surrounded a 50-strong unit of the Turkish army near the village of Daglica in Hakkari province, three miles from Turkey's border with Iraq.

The operation was well planned. The PKK guerrillas first cut the electricity and telephone lines to the Turkish army post and then isolated it by blowing up a bridge. The besieged soldiers could see the PKK taking up positions through their night-vision equipment and monitored their radio communications.

When the PKK did attack it overran the outpost, killing at least 16 Turkish soldiers, wounding 17 and capturing eight whom the PKK still holds. The PKK claims only three of its men were slightly wounded and later released pictures of the Turkish prisoners.

It was the most effective PKK action for years and the Turkish government's reaction to it has re-launched the PKK as a political player in the region. It is no longer an irrelevant relic of its failed bid to lead the 15 million Turkish Kurds to independence which collapsed after its military defeat in the 1990s and the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.

Sunday's attack had an explosive impact on Turkey because the Turkish army and its civilian supporters are eager to persuade Turks that the moderate Islamist government is insufficiently patriotic. For his part, the Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan had been skilfully threatening to send the army across the border but not in fact doing so.

Talking to PKK leaders in their headquarters in the Qandil mountains it is not clear how far they are trying to tempt Turkey into a trap by provoking it into invading northern Iraq. A Turkish invasion would be much in the PKK's interests since the Turkish army would become embroiled with the powerful military forces of the Iraqi Kurds.

The PKK leaders do not feel themselves in much danger. The mountains and gorges have been a redoubt for guerrillas for thousands of years. "Nobody can get us out of here," says Bozan Tekin, a PKK leader, pointing to the mountain walls surrounding the cluster of stone houses where we met. He claimed that Alexander the Great had been balked by the mountains of Kurdistan and suggested the Turks would be no more successful.

The natural defences of the Qandil are impressive. We started in the plain below the mountains in the village of Sangassar and then drove along the side of steep hills, dotted with small oak trees, which fall away on one side to form a gorge.

At the top of a pass we entered PKK territory, the entrance to which is guarded by a series of checkpoints and PKK fighters in uniform. They told us to keep straight on to the village of Kurtak and not to divert off the road. Diversions were not tempting since the only side roads are rutted paths leading further into the mountains. Houses are few though nomads herding sheep had pitched their tents by the streams and were gathering firewood.

One of several difficulties facing a Turkish invasion force is that they are unlikely to locate the PKK in this wilderness of mountains. The place we met Bozan Tekin was miles away from the nearest PKK camp which, say local sources, can only be reached after an hour in a vehicle and seven or eight hours trek on foot. The base itself consists of scattered houses hidden in a cleft between the rocks.

But the strength of the PKK position has less to do with geography and more to do with the politics of the region. Since it was founded in 1978 the PKK has always benefited from Ankara's refusal to recognise that there is a Kurdish minority and the stifling of all means of constitutional protest. It still does.

Militarily, the PKK are not very strong. The figure given for its forces inside northern Iraq is about 3,000. They claim that they have been trying to abide by a ceasefire since 1 October 2006, but it is a curiously flexible ceasefire that includes the right of self-defence and retaliation. The PKK's pin-prick attacks do not have much military impact on the 100,000 Turkish soldiers massed north of the border. But they do inflict serious political damage on the Turkish government because any Turkish casualties drive it towards an invasion of Iraq that it does not want to carry out.

There is a further problem for Turkey that is also largely of its own making. The only Iraq force capable of evicting the PKK from its mountains is the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Massoud Barzani. But Turkey refuses to recognise the KRG because it is Kurdish and will only deal with the Iraqi government in Baghdad which, as one observer put it, has "about as much influence in Iraqi Kurdistan as Britney Spears".

In an interview with Aljazeera English television Masrour Barzani, the powerful head of the Kurdish intelligence service (Parastin), says pointedly that if the KRG is not consulted about an agreement between Baghdad and Ankara then it will not necessarily go along with it. In any case, he says the PKK bases are "in remote and isolated areas" outside his government's control.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing