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
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'