Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani arrived in Ankara on September 25 for two days of talks with Turkish officials in an attempt to resolve long-standing differences over the continued presence of camps belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.
The arrival of al-Bulani in Turkey comes seven weeks after a visit to Ankara by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki on August 7 (see EDM, August 8). At the time, the Turkish authorities were hopeful that al-Maliki would sign a detailed agreement on concrete measures to be taken against the PKK. However, al-Maliki agreed only to sign a vague Memorandum of Understanding that committed the two countries to isolating, pacifying, and ending the presence of all terrorist groups in Iraq, including the PKK. Turkish officials later reported that al-Maliki had promised to send another delegation to Turkey later in August to discuss the specifics of a more detailed agreement. However, no delegation arrived.
Turkish expectations from al-Bulani’s visit are low. Turkish officials believe that the key to putting pressure on the PKK camps lies in Washington and northern Iraq itself, rather than in Baghdad. Turkey has long called for the United States to move against the PKK in northern Iraq or allow the Turkish military to do so. It has also repeatedly tried to persuade the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), based in the northern city of Arbil, to close down the camps and extradite the PKK leaders to Turkey.
On his arrival in Ankara, al-Bulani was quoted by the Turkish media as declaring: “We do not accept any person or group that is against Turkey” (Turkish Daily News, September 26). However, with little or no real authority in northern Iraq and increasingly under pressure in Baghdad, few Turks expect the al-Maliki government to have either the will or the ability to put pressure on the KRG.
Nevertheless, al-Bulani has been presented with a detailed dossier on the PKK’s activities in northern Iraq. The Turkish authorities claim that there are currently between 3,640 and 4,030 PKK militants in the Qandil Mountains, including more than 500 members of the organization’s military wing deployed close to the Iraqi border with Turkey and ready to join units already deployed in the insurgency inside the country. They also believe that the PKK’s stockpiles of weapons in nine camps in the Qandil Mountains include over 10,000 grenades and mines and more than 3,000 firearms, mostly semi-automatic rifles. In addition, the report presented to al-Bulani maintains that the PKK has established two small hydroelectric power plants to meet its needs for electricity and that the PKK camp in Kanicenge has a fully equipped hospital with six or seven doctors (CNNTurk, NTV, September 25).
The dossier presented to al-Bulani also includes a list of measures that Turkey expects the al-Maliki government to take — or at least try to persuade the KRG to take. They include the establishment of 20 checkpoints on the Iraqi side of the border to try to prevent PKK units from infiltrating into Turkey. Turkey has also presented al-Bulani with a list of 150 names of militants wanted in connection with attacks inside Turkey. They include not only leading members of the PKK, such as the Murat Karayilan, the head of the PKK’s executive committee, but also al-Qaeda affiliates who are believed to have fled from Turkey into Iraq (CNNTurk, Anka, September 25).
Inside Turkey, the military has continued with a major search-and-destroy operation against PKK units before they withdraw to the camps in the Qandil Mountains for the winter. On September 25, one member of the Turkish security forces was killed and four more wounded when the PKK detonated a remote-controlled improvised explosive device (IED) next to a military outpost in the province in Tunceli. On the same day, one soldier was killed and four wounded in a firefight in the province of Sirnak. No figures are available for the PKK casualties (Radikal, Hurriyet, Milliyet, Sabah, Yeni Safak, Zaman, September 26).