Turkey takes the fight to PKK, enlists help of Syria, Iran
Turkey, which has developed a new approach in its fight against terrorism, has decided to focus on northern Iraq, where the PKK finds the most logistical support and opportunities to train its militants.
The most important leg of this plan relies on the support of Iran and Syria against the terrorist group. A senior government official who spoke to Today’s Zaman on condition of anonymity said Turkey will be working closely with these two countries to block any escape routes in the region once the terrorist group is cornered in northern Iraq.
Preliminary signs of this cooperation have already emerged with Iran capturing and executing 29 PKK members in the past six months. Seventeen PKK militants were extradited to Turkey. Syria launched a military campaign against the group, killing 185 terrorists and arresting 400 others. Some 160 of these will be extradited to Turkey, while Germany returned three PKK members to Turkey very recently in what was a first in that country’s history.
Turkey, which has developed a new approach in the fight against terror, has decided to focus on northern Iraq, where the organization finds the highest amount of logistical support and opportunities for training militants. Turkey will be continuing its counterterrorism efforts not inside the country’s border but in northern Iraq. Turkey’s cooperation with Syria and Iran to keep militants from escaping from northern Iraq will be the first time in history that the three countries will be fighting a common enemy.
Syria did more than expected
Turkey has managed to convince both Iran and Syria that international powers are using the PKK against the three countries. The support extended by Syria has been far beyond expectations. Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ in 2009 said if Syria declared amnesty for PKK militants in northern Iraq, this would make life much easier for Turkey. Syria has been more than responsive. Instead of issuing a general amnesty, Syria started a major operation across three cities against the PKK.
Although the military’s first response was a cautious one, Turkey was surprised when hundreds of PKK members were killed or arrested during the operations in Syria, which allowed the PKK to use its land for training purposes and as a launch pad for attacks into Turkey until 1999 when the two countries reached an agreement on the issue, with Turkey threatening war if Syria didn’t cut support for the group. Recent intelligence suggests that about 2,000 of the 6,000 PKK militants in northern Iraq are of Syrian origin. There also seems to be an increase in the number of Syrian recruits in comparison to the past few years. Intelligence suggests that Fehman Hüseyin -- one of the PKK’s top leaders -- of Syrian origin, is playing a major role in this.
Delegation to Syria
In addition to local military operations against the PKK, Syria is also imposing harsh measures against Kurdish families in the region. It has threatened that land allocated by the state to local farmers will be taken back from those who support the terrorist organization. Following these developments, the Turkish Interior Ministry sent a six-person delegation to Syria made up of counterterrorism experts and intelligence officers. The delegation will talk to some of the PKK militants whose interrogations have been completed. Syria is expected to return 160 militants to Turkey. Experts say information that might be provided by those PKK members who are still being questioned might aid greatly in Turkey’s operations directed at northern Iraq. Sources have also suggested that Turkey has set up a special team with the support of Syria and Iran to capture the leaders of the PKK. Intelligence reports state that PKK commanders Murat Karayılan, Fehman Hüseyin and Cemil Bayık have been on the run constantly in order to avoid capture. However, Turkey, now backed by Syria and Iran, is closing in on the leaders in northern Iraq.
Iran, which is also weary of the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) -- the PKK’s arm in Iran -- has extradited 17 PKK members to Turkey in the past three months. Twenty-nine militants were executed in the past three months.
A senior bureaucrat from the Interior Ministry who spoke to Today’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity says Iran has been attaching great importance to the fight against the PKK in the past few years. According to this source, Iran executed three PKK members in 2007. This number was 14 in 2008 and 19 in 2009. This number has risen to 29 so far this year. The PKK and PJAK sympathizers in their statements also confirm that Iran has stepped up operations against the organization. Iran has also launched operations near the Iraqi border and an extensive military campaign in Hoy -- seen as the fortress of PJAK -- is also underway. Seven PKK militants were killed in these operations on July 11.
Mass extraditions expected
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Sedat Laçiner, from the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), said mass extraditions of terrorists from Syria and Iran are expected in the near future.
“Syria has extradited 230 PKK terrorists to Turkey in the past two years. In addition, Iran continues to extradite the terrorists it captures. Mass extraditions may occur soon,” he stated. He also praised Turkey’s cooperation with the two countries against PKK terrorists in the region. “Turkey convinced Iran and Syria that the PKK in northern Iraq is a common enemy. Iran and Syria have come to realize that the terrorist organization nested in northern Iraq is also a threat to their own existence,” he added.