Turkey looks to KRG for help against PKK
Analysts say the Iraqi Kurds have limited influence to halt PKK violence.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 04/07/12
Seeking an end to the rising tide of PKK attacks from the mountains of northern Iraq, Turkey is again enlisting the support of the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani have been urging the PKK to declare a ceasefire -- and eventually lay down its arms -- in order to give a political solution a chance.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) and Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani held talks in Istanbul on April 19th. [Reuters]
The Iraqi Kurds' efforts comes as Turkey and the KRG have experienced a remarkable blossoming of relations over the past three years, with added strategic importance since the US withdrawal from Iraq and the uprising in Syria.
Turkey's economic and political weight over the KRG has been matched by domestic reforms to address the Kurdish issue. Despite the numerous hiccups and the failure of the much vaunted "Kurdish opening" in 2009, the Iraqi Kurdish leaders recognise Turkey has taken unprecedented steps to address Kurdish rights.
Viewed from Erbil, the PKK is a problem that also provides the KRG with leverage over Turkey. Ultimately though, the Iraqi Kurds believe a solution lays in negotiations between the PKK and Turkey alongside democratic and rights-based reforms that would meet Kurdish demands and make the PKK's armed struggle irrelevant.
Barzani has condemned PKK violence and stated the Kurdish struggle for rights cannot be won by force of arms, but neither can Turkey solve it with the heavy hand of the military.
Hemin Hawrami, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) Foreign Affairs Office, told SES Türkiye the Iraqi Kurds believe there is no alternative to dialogue and a democratic, peaceful solution.
"We ask the PKK to lay down their arms and give a chance for a political solution within the framework of the Turkish political process in parliament. We also salute the Turkish government for their initiatives so far and we do encourage them for more steps in this regard," he said.
The Iraqi Kurds would like the PKK and its Iranian offshoot, PJAK, expelled from its territory to avoid regular Turkish and Iranian cross-border operations. But they have limited military capabilities and the tough terrain of the PKK's mountainous redoubts has thwarted even the Turkish military for nearly 30 years.
In the 1990s, the Iraqi Kurds at times fought the PKK at the cost of many fighters, or peshmerga, something Barzani is quick to point out. There is little love between the PKK and Barzani. The close relationship between the KRG and Turkey has only made Barzani less credible in the eyes of the PKK.
"The PKK will never take its orders from Barzani," said Denise Natali, a scholar on the Kurds at the National Defense University.
Syria -- where the PKK's Syrian offshoot, the PYD, enjoys widespread support -- provides an example of just how little influence Barzani may have over the PKK. At the prodding of Turkey, Barzani has unsuccessfully been encouraging the Syrian Kurds -- one-third of which support the PYD -- to join the opposition Syrian National Council based in Istanbul.
According to Natali, "It is unlikely that Barzani will ultimately be able to influence the Syrian Kurdish opposition that supports the PYD/PKK because they are anti-Turkish and Barzani is not."
The Iraqi Kurdish leaders know how much importance their powerful northern neighbour accords to hindering the PKK's presence, but the Iraqi Kurds must also be attuned to their own Kurdish public opinion which would hardly support tough measures against the PKK.
"Barzani can make all the promises he wants to Ankara, but the internal pressures by Kurdish nationalists inside the Kurdistan Region, and the PKK presence that has and will continue to destabilise the northern area will remain a thorn in his own side for years to come, at least until the Kurdish problem is resolved in Turkey," Natali explained.
Ahmed Ali, an Iraqi affairs analyst and editor of Iraq Shamel, told SES Türkiye policy-makers in Ankara "should be cognizant of these facts and limitations and should probably have low expectations of what Barzani and Talabani can achieve."