Former leader of Kurd rebels reveals retreat into Iran

Patrick Cockburnin Arbil
Monday 05 November 2007 01:00

Turkish Kurd guerrillas are leaving Iraqi Kurdistan for Iran in order to avoid an attack by the Turkish army according to a former leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK.

Osman Ocalan, brother of the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, said: "the PKK has decreased its forces in Iraqi Kurdistan and they are moving to Iran. It is part of PKK tactics that when they feel pressure in one country they move to another."

President George Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are to meet today in Washington to discuss what can be done about the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan, from which it has been staging attacks on Turkish army units.

The news that the PKK is moving its mobile fighters into Iranian Kurdistan – where they have escalated attacks on Iranian government forces – further complicates any action against the guerrillas.

Mr Ocalan was at the top of Turkey's most wanted list until he left the PKK because he had fallen in love with a woman who was a fellow PKK fighter. PKK rules forbade relationships between guerrillas, so they fled the mountains in 2004, where he had lived for 18 years, in order to marry.

As a founder member of the PKK and the brother of its revered leader, Mr Ocalan is well informed about the actions and intentions of the organisation. In an interview in Arbil he estimated the total strength of the PKK guerrillas at just under 7,000. "There are 2,750 fighters in Turkey," he said. "A further 2,500 are in the border areas of Iraq and 1,500 are in Iran." It is the PKK's war in Iran, where there is a Kurdish minority of four million, that is escalating. "In the last six months the PKK has started a war against Iran."

"There are more and more fighters in Iranian Kurdistan and the Iranian Kurds support the PKK strongly." The shift of part of the PKK into Iran to evade a Turkish military operations and to attack Iranian forces faces the US with a problem. America condemns the PKK when it is killing Turkish soldiers in Turkey as "terrorists", but has not similarly denounced the section of the PKK, known as PJAK, which has killed as many as 150 Iranian soldiers and police in Iran. Iran claims that the PKK receives covert support from the US.

The PKK is skilful in exploiting the fact that the 25 million Kurds in the Middle East have no state of their own, but are spread across eastern Turkey (where they number 15 million), northern Iraq (five million), Iran (four million) and Syria (one million). "In this instance the partition of Kurdistan works in our interests," Mr Ocalan said.

One reason for the intensification of PKK attacks on the Turkish army is the movement's concern about the health of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned on the Turkish island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara. "The Turks want to kill Apu [Abdullah's nickname]," he said of his brother. "He can't breathe very well."

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