Waning Support For Rebel Kurds Threatens Northern Iraq Enclave




 
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Waning Support For Rebel Kurds Threatens Northern Iraq Enclave
 
November 15th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Waning Support For Rebel Kurds Threatens Northern Iraq Enclave


Waning Support For Rebel Kurds Threatens Northern Iraq Enclave
San Diego Union-Tribune
November 15, 2007 For decades, PKK has relied on nationalism for protection
By Paul Schemm, Associated Press
IRBIL, Iraq – While Kurdish guerrillas watch the border for any signs that Turkey's military will carry out threats to sweep across it, other rumblings are coming from inside Iraq: a new ambivalence among Iraq's Kurds about support for their rebel comrades holed up in the mountains.
The fear – expressed by Kurdish officials and on the streets – is that the showdown could threaten the relatively peaceful and prosperous enclave that Kurds have carved out since 1991 after generations of poverty and oppression.
Even a small shift in sentiment is meaningful because the Kurdish separatists in Turkey – known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK – have counted on deep Kurdish nationalism for decades to protect their supply lines and hide-outs in northern Iraq.
“It's making a lot of people nervous,” said Ismail Zayer, an Arab newspaper editor with long-standing ties to the Kurds, speaking of the escalating PKK-Turkey tensions.
“A lot of nationalistic Kurds have become less nationalistic,” he said. “The Kurds understand that independence is not necessarily a state and a flag. Rather it is having stability and a good economy.”
Kurds are a major ethnic group straddling four countries – Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria – totaling about 20 million people. Most live in Turkey, primarily in the southeast, where the PKK has been fighting for autonomy since 1984 in a conflict that has killed nearly 40,000 people.
With the rest of Iraq plagued by bombings and killings, the three northern Kurdish provinces have emerged as an oasis of calm and a magnet for foreign investment.
All that could be at risk if Turkey begins a major attack against the PKK, whose fighters launch deadly attacks against Turkish soldiers across the border.
On Tuesday, Turkish helicopter gunships fired on abandoned villages believed to be used as PKK outposts. The raid occurred in Dahuk province, the booming gateway for Turkish imports.
“To be honest, the PKK is an annoying organization,” said Dahuk's governor, Taher Fattah Ramadan, in his office 44 miles from the border.
Ramadan said both Turks and Iraqi Kurds benefit from a bustling cross-border trade that a Turkish attack would put in peril.
“The (Turkish) province just over the frontier has over 180 companies and financial institutions that benefit directly from trade and investment in northern Iraq,” he said.
To decrease their political isolation, Kurds are reaching out to other countries, said Zayer, who runs his newspaper from Irbil in northern Iraq after repeated attempts on his life in Baghdad.
As an example, the regional Ministry of Culture invited Egyptian journalists and academics to a recent conference in memory of Mohammed Ali Awni, a Turkish-born Kurd who translated books on the Kurds into Arabic in the 20th century.
“We hope that these sorts of celebrations will help reduce the tensions in the region and allow space for discussion,” regional Culture Minister Falkadin Kakei said.
Kakei also expressed frustration with the PKK's reliance on attacks rather than dialogue or political pressure.
“We have officially told (the PKK) to lay down their arms ... and fight the cause through other means,” he said.
Ironically, Turkey considers Kakei a PKK sympathizer because he has campaigned for the release of Kurdish prisoners in Turkey, including Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the PKK.
Six months ago, Turkish officials barred Kakei from attending a cultural conference in Diyarbakir, a main city in Turkey's southeast.
“The problem is that the PKK and Turkey are both hard-liners; the PKK is like Turkey. They both think in the same way. The two are the same,” Kakei said.
Even as the Kurds try to reach out to their neighbors, they face a legacy of negative feelings. Egyptian media, for example, regularly accuse them of trying to split up Iraq and even of collaborating with Israel.
“We are not a new Israel. We have lived among the Arabs for the last 1,400 years,” Othman Rashid, the mufti of Irbil, told the Egyptian delegation in his mosque high in the city's ancient, crumbling citadel.
Many Kurds, however, still cleave to their fiercely independent ways and note how most Arab regimes kept silent while they were being massacred by Saddam Hussein.
 


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