Iraq Pulse

Will Iraqi Kurdistan government be able to solve PKK issue?

Article Summary
Despite their deep rivalry, both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) emphasize the importance of dealing with their longstanding conflicts peacefully.

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — While Turkey is trying to involve the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in its cross-border military operations in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to expel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerillas from their strongholds in the Qandil Mountains, both the PKK and the KDP say they are open to dialogue for resolving their issues peacefully.

The PKK is a leftist Kurdish political party formed in the late 1970s by Abdullah Ocalan (now imprisoned by Turkey) to gain autonomy for the Kurdish people in southeastern Turkey. In 1984, the PKK launched an armed resistance against Turkish military forces. The party is considered to be a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the West.

The KDP, a Kurdish political party that promotes nationalism, is led by former Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani. It was founded by his father, Mustafa Barzani, in 1946. As the winner of Sept. 30 parliamentary elections, the KDP and the Barzanis have a tight grip on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the region’s presidency, judiciary, security apparatus, oil and the mainstream media.    

Following the Huqqabaz restaurant shooting that killed a Turkish diplomat in Erbil last month, the Kurdistan Region Security Council released videotaped confessions of some suspects who claimed the shooting was planned by the PKK. The PKK denied any connection to the shooting, but applauded it.

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In the mid-1990s, during what was termed the Iraqi Kurdish Civil War, the KDP and the PKK found themselves on opposite sides. The KDP still does not like that the PKK controls such a large part of KRG territory.

But Murad Qarailan, the head of the People's Defense Forces, the military wing of the PKK, told the Sterk satellite channel Aug. 3, “The problems between the KDP and the PKK are not so difficult that they cannot be solved via dialogue.”

Safeen Dizayee, the KRG's foreign minister, told Al-Monitor, “The PKK’s arena of strife is not the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The PKK issue originated in Turkey and consequently reached the Kurdistan region. The Kurdistan region has seen enough calamities from Anfal and chemical gas attacks, and thus does not need other [ones] and the abuse of the sovereignty of its territory.”

Dizayee said, “Thus, the 40-year-old issue should be resolved inside Turkey through peaceful solutions. Whether peace is reached or not, wars and clashes should be halted, since the alternative of peace should not be war. In the past the region had a key role in the peace process.” He added, “We hope an atmosphere will be provided for eliminating all kinds of violence and reaching peace through dialogue. The PKK should respect the Kurdistan region’s will and administration; the PKK should also abandon its interference and threats [against the Kurdistan region].”

The Turkish government and the PKK observed a cease-fire from 2013 to 2015 while trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the country’s decades-long conflict in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. But the talks collapsed, in large part due to regional turmoil in Syria and Iraq.

Zagros Hiwa, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Communities Union — a cross-national and intercommunal political group for all parties believing in Ocalan’s ideology — told Al-Monitor, “We are always ready for dialogue, and we have no preconditions for negotiations. Peaceful talks are the only way to deal with the issues. We even do not want to think about the prospect of occurring internal wars between Kurdish forces.”

Regarding the KRG’s repeated demands that PKK should leave the Kurdistan region’s territories, Hiwa said that such statements only serve Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s agenda of “destroying the achievements of the Kurdistan Region, and igniting a civil war between the Kurdistan Region’s peshmerga forces and the PKK guerillas.”

“We will be in every place where there are ethnic cleansing attacks against the Kurdish nation, and we will protect the Kurds and other minorities,” he added.

He said the KDP forces have not fought PKK guerrillas inside Kurdistan yet. However, he warned that Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has breached the ranks of the KDP’s peshmerga and the Parastin intelligence agency and some insiders are cooperating with the MIT in providing information for launching airstrikes against PKK militants. 

Al-Monitor contacted KDP spokesman Mahmoud Mohamed, but he declined to respond to a request for comment.

Ocalan, who is being held in the Imrali island prison after he was seized by Turkish special forces with US help in Kenya in 1999, was quoted as saying by his lawyers Aug. that he “can stop the conflict between the Turkish state and PKK militants within a week.”

Hiwa told Al-Monitor via email, “Our movement has long declared Mr. Ocalan as the chief negotiator in any peace deal. So, if secure and sustainable channels of communication are set up to ensure Ocalan and his movement can easily share ideas, Ocalan's views are always binding for the movement.”  

He also said, “In his communique to the public issued in May and August, Ocalan declared his readiness for a solution. What remains is whether the Turkish state’s mind is ready for a democratic solution for the Kurdish issue or not." 

Diliman Abdulkader, a Kurdish Middle East analyst and director of external relations at Allegiance Strategies, said the major obstacle for any peace talks between the KDP and PKK is Turkey.

“The dominant states surrounding Kurdistan and Kurdish parties have pitted Kurds against one another. KDP leader Massoud Barzani must be brave enough to look beyond short-term survival tactics that only serve his, Erdogan’s and KDP-AKP interests,” Abdulkader told Al-Monitor. “The KDP must also understand that the PKK isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The right choice is simple: Make peace with fellow Kurds before anyone else.”

Abdulkader described the KDP’s precondition that the PKK leave Kurdistan Region territories as “unrealistic” and “no different than Turkey’s stance.”

“If negotiations are launched, they will succeed as long as both parties are honest with the approach without external interference from Ankara,” Abulkader added. “Both sides should move beyond Turkey and Iran’s interest; Kurds will lose hope in both the KDP and PKK if peace is not given a chance. If Kurds don’t get their house in order then they will no longer be viewed as the best alternative to a region riddled with conflict,” Abulkader said. He added, “Kurds are a peaceful nation yet internal conflicts and overlapping tribal interests have pushed away international support. Whether we Kurds like it or not, we are judged by regional and international powers of our capability to rule based on institutions and away from tribalism.”

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Dana Taib Menmy is a Kurdish journalist from Sulaimaniyah who has been published by several Kurdish media outlets since 2006.

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