Two deadly vehicle bombings Aug. 18 in Turkey killed 10 policemen, injured more than 300 and refocused attention on a little-understood insurgency with a growing footprint in Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the incidents were
certainly the work of
the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out dozens of attacks on police and military
posts since 2015 in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeastern provinces.
With thousands of affiliated
Kurdish soldiers in Iraq (and many more in Turkey), the PKK is listed as a terrorist
organization by the United States and NATO, yet operates openly in dozens of
Iraqi towns and reportedly controls hundreds of villages in northern Iraq.
On the one hand, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is said to be allied with the government of Turkey,
the KRG’s chief trading partner. On the other, the PKK recruits and trains
personnel freely in KRG territory and today is at war with ethnic rivals of the Kurds
as well as ISIS. It is among the most problematic of the 140 unauthorized
militias fighting the terrorists of the Black Flag.
The PKK says it should
be relieved of the terrorist designation, and its defenders are many, including
philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Levy.
PKK is the organization that, particularly through its forces fighting in Syria
under the banner of the YPG (People’s Protection Units), is on the front line
in the battle against the dark caliphate of the Islamic State,” Levy argued in
He said the PKK has renounced hard-line Marxism and recognizes "a level of gender equality, a respect for secularism and minorities, and
a modern, moderate, and ecumenical conception of Islam that are, to say
the least, rare in the region."
Others disagree. “It is a terrorist organization in that it uses terrorist
tactics against non-security targets,” James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, wrote in an email to AMI
leadership has claimed the group has 2,500 fighters in Iraq and approximately
5,500 in Turkey. High estimates put the number of active PKK
fighters at 10,000. The PKK has “several thousand” in Iraq, according to Jeffrey.
The PKK’s Iraqi footprint covers
more than 650 villages in Kurdistan, including 361 in the Dohuk governorate in
the northwest corner of the KRG, according to Botan Hussein, the mayor of the
town of Zakho.
“The area where the PKK is
the biggest problem is in Sinjar, where it has attempted to take over the
police station and where it brings Yezidi youth to be trained as Marxist, PKK
fighters,” a top KRG official said recently, asking anonymity.
“They (the PKK) have had a
significant military force in Iraq since the early 1990s and some of their
people were deployed to Sinjar and were instrumental in saving many Yezidi
people from being killed by ISIS" when the terrorist group attacked two years ago, Jeffrey
said. “They are a communist-type group and have a very
Unlike all other armies in the region, the PKK
puts women with rifles in the front lines. PKK female fighting units,
dubbed “Guerilla Fighters,” met with a delegation of Syrian Kurdish officials of
the PKK-allied government in northern Syria at the PKK local headquarters in
Kirkuk Aug. 2, according to Roj News.
Founded by Abdullah Ocalan, a charismatic leader
in 1978 who envisioned a Kurdish Marxist-Leninist state, the PKK initially
aspired to forge an independent nation for the 30 million Kurds, the largest
stateless ethnic group in the world. Since his capture by the Turkish military
and imprisonment in 1999, Ocalan reportedly has abandoned
Marxist-Leninist philosophy and advocates a new political platform while ceasing his calls
for the establishment of a fully independent country. Observers in the region still
characterize the PKK as Marxist.
The PKK has waged a bloody guerrilla war
against the Turkish state since 1984. More than 13,000 Turkish soldiers, and
more than 22,000 Kurdish rebels have died in this bitter struggle.
legislators have frequently complained that the PKK “kidnaps” teenagers,
including Yezidi boys in the displacement camps and indoctrinates them at its
“The PKK has established several organizations under different
names and uses them for its political activities in Kurdistan region,” according
to Nazim Kabir, deputy chairman of the KRG security committee, speaking to a
Kurdish reporter Tuesday. “The PKK has
manipulated some children and sent them to its training camps in the Qandil
Although chiefly known as enemies
of the Turkish military, the PKK units are occupying territory 170 miles south
of Iraq’s border with Turkey and fighting Shia militia allied with Baghdad as
well as ISIS, according to Dr. Ali Al-Bayati, head of the Turkmen Rescue
Foundation in Baghdad. A clash between Turkmen and Peshmerga fighters claimed the lives
of 40 Turkmen and six Peshmerga April 23.
The PKK are clearly welcome
to operate in Iraq and are helping the Kurdish parties claim and hold disputed
territories on Kurdistan's expanding southern flank, according to Iraqi
observers AMI Newswire has interviewed.
Dr. Najmadin Karim has close ties with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
leadership and has used his authority to advance the PUK agenda with the Iraqi government and with the Iranian
government through the popular mobilization units,” according to Kurdish-born Hemin
Qazi, a former contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense who has deep roots in
“Peshmerga forces ... are at the
forefront of fighting ISIS and defending Kurdish (disputed) borders,” said Qazi.
Since the Peshmerga regained
control of Kirkuk from ISIS in 2014, the city has become a de facto extension
of the Kurdish Regional Government.
Peshmerga commanders that AMI
Newswire has spoken to insist the Kurdish political perimeter soon will include Tuz Khurmatu and
the hundreds of villages in between that city and Kirkuk, although this assessment is
disputed. Tuz Khurmatu, which is about 50 miles south of Kirkuk and 90 miles north
of Baghdad, is multi-ethnic. Its citizens include a majority of Shia Turkmen
together with Sunni Turkmen, Arabs, and Kurds.
Turkmen have claimed that the Kurdish armed groups seek to move the Arabs and
Turkmen out of the territory to be claimed for greater Kurdistan.
“The aim of
the PKK and PUK is to change the demography of northern Iraq. New maps will be
drawn by these armed militias, MP Ershad Al-Salihi, a Turkman leader, said in
an interview. "The clashes between armed groups in Tuz may cause problems for
the government of Iraq and the United States. After ISIS is defeated, there
will be a bigger war between the PKK and Turkmen,” Al-Salihi predicted.