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oil pipelines: pkk’s “strategic goal”

NIQASH (Arbil/Sulaymaniyah), 23 October 2007 — Kurdish officials fueled the conflict with Turkey when the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Mass’oud Barazani refused Turkish conditions of handing over PKK leaders. Arabs and Turkmen warned that Kurdish parties opposing the political regimes of neighboring countries could “threaten the stability and the economy of the country,” since the PKK threatened to strike Iraqi oil pipelines to Turkey. Arab and Turkmen demanded to expel the banned organization to “avoid another occupation.” The Kurdistan Regional Government appealed to the Turkish government not to get involved in a “war of deception” that could only lead to bloodshed. It also addressed the PKK asking for better compliance with regard to the special situation of the Kurdish region.

On 21 October 2007 the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani refused to hand over PKK leaders, while Mas’ud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, said that he “will definitely defend the Region against any attack.” In a joint press conference with Barzani held in Arbil, Talabani said that, “PKK leaders are hiding in rugged, mountainous areas and the Turkish army with all of its mightiness was not able to defeat them or to arrest them, so how are we be expected to arrest them and hand them over to Turkey?” He added that, “handing over Kurdish leaders to Turkey is a dream which will never come true.” Using the Kurdish language, Talabani continued saying that, “we do not accept to hand over a Kurdish cat to Turkey, so do you think we could ever consider handing over Kurdish people to Turkey?” Meanwhile, Mas’ud Barzani reiterated his denunciation of Turkish threats to invade Kurdistan under the pretext of crushing rebels of the outlawed PKK. He stressed that the Kurds will defend themselves “if the Kurdistan Region is endangered; we will defend our citizens and we will not take sides with any of the two parties of the conflict.” The Kurdish statements came at a time when Turkish military sources said that 12 Turkish soldiers and 23 Kurdish guerilla members were killed when PKK fighters carried out an attack in the Turkish-Iraqi border area. The Turkish military, in a statement posted on its website, said that the fight started when a large group of PKK guerillas infiltrated from northern Iraq and attacked Turkish soldiers.

The PKK later claimed that its guerrillas had captured a number of Turkish soldiers after a fight waged on Iraqi soil. Talabani rejected the Turkish conditions at a press conference upon his arrival in Sulaymaniyah after a visit to the United States and France, and added that the Americans would not allow a Turkish military campaign inside Kurdistan. At the same time, the PKK designated Iraqi oil pipelines into Turkey as “strategic targets” and threatened to strike them in case Turkey decides to launch a large military attack on Kurdistan. The pro-PKK Firat News Agency quoted Murat Karayilan, one of PKK leaders, as saying “We are fighting a defensive war and oil pipelines provide a valuable economic resource to the offensive Turkish army; oil pipelines could be a possible target of our guerillas.” Firat quoted him as saying that Iraqi oil pipelines go from the Kirkuk fields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Moreover, there are the oil pipelines from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean Sea, from where the oil is shipped to the West, that pass through eastern Turkey, where the majority of the people are Kurds.

Turkey and Iran refuse to acknowledge the KRG or to conduct direct talks with it. Jamal Shan, president of the National Turkmen Party told Niqash that, “the existence of the outlawed organization is the reason behind the current crises and the tensed relations with Turkey.” He added that, “Turkey has been suffering terrorist attacks launched by PKK for 20 years, and these attacks have led to the death of hundreds of people.” Shan called upon the Kurdish leadership to cooperate in crushing the PKK “as they did during the 1990s when the Peshmerga forces of Mas’ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, launched military campaigns against those Kurdish groups.” He indicated that Turkish troops do not want to invade northern Iraq, as some are wrongly claiming, but that they do want to put an end to terrorism that is threatening the security and stability of both Iraq and Turkey, an endeavor similar to the actions taken by the US in Afghanistan.

Turkish troops, the Peshmerga forces of Mas’ud Barzani, and other Kurdish armed forces in Turkey were able to expel PKK members from their hideouts in the Qandil and Matina mountains, when Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, imposed a ban on the activities of the organization before expelling its members to the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian border triangle in 1999.


Positions and Demands

The US administration and the EU oppose any Turkish military campaign in Kurdistan under the pretext of crushing the PKK. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the US administration opposition of intrusion into northern Iraq, indicating the importance of “practicing self-control” by the Turkish government. Kuwait also urged Turkey to practice utmost self-control. Its foreign minister, Muhammad Al-Sabah, said that his country is watching with great concern the developments taking place on the Iraq-Turkey border. He indicated that, “Kuwait will be hosting in the coming week the fourth meeting of the interior ministers of Iraq’s neighbors, which will also be attended by the Bahrain and Egypt.” Syrian President Bashar al-Asad considered any Turkish military incursion as “justifiable and legitimate.” However, Muhsin Bilal, the Syrian Minister of Information, later said that the statements made by Asad during his visit to Turkey were “interpreted in a way which led to the misunderstanding of their contents.”

The Turkish government demands the handing over of Masrur Barzani, the son of the Mas’ud Barzani, who is the head of the Parastin Intelligence apparatus and chief security supervisor in areas under the authority of the KDP. It also demands the handing over of Mahmud Othman, a member of the Kurdistan Coalition, of 36 Iraqi Kurdish officials and 160 PKK members for their support of attacks launched by group. The list contains 150 official members of PKK in Arbil, Zakho and Dohuk.

Earlier, some Turkish companies decided to stop their operations in the Kurdistan Region despite agreements concluded with the Kurdish government worth $5 billion. Against the ongoing Turkish threats, food prices in Sulaymaniyah have risen. In addition, there are lines at fuel stations and many Kurdish cities saw widespread protests against the Turkish decision to give its military the right to launch an incursion into the Kurdistan Region.


Investment fears

Iraqi and foreign investors share fears that Turkish threats of invading Kurdistan may lead to damage their projects. This is especially true given the fact that many Turkish companies have left Kurdistan after the increased tension.

An official at Al-Warka’ Bank (with a capital of 60 million Iraqi dinar) said that, “Arab and Iraqi banks came to Kurdistan to benefit from opportunities of investing their capital ,especially as the Region enjoys a stable security situation compared to other Iraqi areas.” He added that, “the approval of the Turkish parliament to grant permission to Turkish troops to invade Kurdistan if need arises will complicate our work and the projects and companies that came to Kurdistan for reconstruction purposes.”

Arab and local banks have announced the establishment of local branches to invest their capital in projects agreed upon with the Kurdish government. These projects are conducted under the Investment Law adopted this year to encourage companies to invest their capital and their expertise in the Region. The Foreign and Arab Companies’ Law has encouraged reconstruction, tourism and commercial projects and also credit banks to invest in the Region in return of privileges, tax exemptions and ownership of land.

The Investment Commission has earlier announced that it has concluded dozens of new project contracts with local and foreign companies from among the 354 foreign and 770 national companies registered at the Sulaymaniyah governorate. Statistics of the Ministry of Planning of the Region indicate that the number of companies has reached 4,444, out of which are 414 foreign, and 726 companies in Arbil after the enactment of a special law organizing investment.

Many Turkish companies have decided to halt their operations in the Region despite their signed agreements with the Kurdish government worth of around $5 billion. Other companies are hesitant to start operations given the current circumstances. Statements made by the US Department of Defense and Colonel Thomas, deputy commander of Multi National Force-Iraq, indicated that “any military operation now will bring damage to 653 Turkish companies currently working in the different fields in the Kurdistan Region.”

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