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Iraq: Kurdish Politician Concerned By U.S. Stance On PKK

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, yesterday announced that the U.S.-led coalition regards the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, as a terrorist organization. The PKK is accused of using northern Iraq as a base for staging attacks on neighboring Turkey, which has been engaged in a decades-long struggle with Kurdish rebels. Ankara welcomed Bremer's remarks, but some observers say the move may anger those Iraqi Kurds who do not consider the PKK a terrorist threat.

Prague, 29 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's U.S. civil administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said yesterday that U.S. President George W. Bush has "committed to end the use of Iraq as a terrorist haven."

Bremer added that there is "no place for terrorism or terrorist organizations in Iraq," and named not only the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), but also its affiliates -- the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress and the Kurdistan People's Congress.

Bremer's announcement in Baghdad came several hours before the meeting in Washington between the U.S. president and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The Turkish government very much wants to see fighting between Iraqi Kurds and those from Turkey, but I don't think they will succeed."
Erdogan later praised the decision. It marks a distinct victory for Turkey, which has long sought U.S. intervention on the issue of PKK members in northern Iraq.

Ankara, which has fought for decades to suppress its own Kurdish minority and has banned the PKK on its own territory, accuses the group of using northern Iraq as a staging ground for attacks on Turkey.

Turkey and U.S. are anxious to put differences over Iraq behind them. In a deal reached last autumn to facilitate Turkey's agreement to sending peacekeepers to Iraq, the U.S. said it would "subdue the terrorist threat that might exist in this reference." The reference was clearly directed against the PKK, which the U.S. has long classified as a terrorist organization.

Not everyone welcomed the U.S. announcement, however. Mahmud Uthman, an independent Kurdish politician and a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, told RFE/RL that Ankara's accusations regarding the PKK are unfounded and that the United States is only seeking to pacify its NATO ally Turkey: "I think it is not founded, this declaration. [It's] only to satisfy Ankara. There is no basis for it, because first of all, the name has [been] changed from PKK to People's Congress. Their name has changed and they haven't fought or shot a bullet in the last four years."

Uthman says the PKK is peacefully pursuing political rights for Turkish Kurds, and that the best way to deal with it and other Kurdish groups is not to suppress them but to guarantee their rights at home: "I think Americans and everybody should press Ankara to change its policy to give general amnesty, without conditions, to allow those people to go back to Turkey and to try to let them [conduct] their activities there within the political and constitutional framework of the country. That would be the best thing for Turkey and for everybody."

Some observers have speculated that the U.S. move might spur hostilities between the PKK and Iraqi Kurdish forces. But Uthman says such tensions would work only to Ankara's benefit and that he does not expect clashes between Kurdish factions in Iraq: "[The PKK] does not believe in fighting. They are not using violence at all, either in Turkey or in Iraq. And I think there are no problems now between them and Iraqi Kurdish parties. So I don't see any possibility of fighting. The Turkish government very much wants to see fighting between Iraqi Kurds and those from Turkey, but I don't think they will succeed."

The PKK's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, urged his followers to leave Turkey in 1999, following a 15-year insurgency against Ankara that claimed some 35,000 lives. Some 5,000 PKK fighters and their families are believed to be hiding in the mountains separating northern Iraq from Iran. But Uthman says it is unclear how many PKK members are in Iraq and how strong a challenge they might pose if attacked by coalition troops: "Well, I don't know. A few thousand people there are armed; they are like peshmergas [eds: Iraqi Kurdish fighters], although they are not using their arms. But there are also some other Kurds from Turkey who are now refugees in camps near Erbil. They are supervised by the United Nations, of course."

Uthman says the repression of the Kurds extends beyond Turkey and the PKK. Iraq's other neighbors, Iran and Syria, are also pressing the U.S. not to recognize the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region. "We are suffering from this meddling into Iraqi affairs," Uthman says.

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