ISTANBUL, 7 February 2008 — Members of a pro-Kurdish political party set up camp near the Iraq border to protest Turkish military raids on Kurdish rebels based on the other side. Separately, a roadside bomb injured two police officers in a border area where guerrillas are active, local media reported yesterday.
Activists from the Democratic Society Party drove in dozens of vehicles Tuesday to Mount Cudi in Sirnak province to demand a peaceful solution to the long conflict between the Turkish state and rebels who seek autonomy.
The gathering was likely to infuriate Turkish nationalists, who accuse the Kurdish party of being a political front for the guerrillas.
On Monday, the Turkish military said its warplanes hit dozens of targets of the PKK rebel group in Iraq, a periodic occurrence since the United States said late last year that it would provide intelligence to Turkey to help it hunt Kurdish militants.
Washington, in turn, has pressed Turkey to refrain from a major ground offensive across the border that could destabilize the relatively tranquil Kurdish regions of northern Iraq.
The PKK traditionally scales down attacks during the winter, and despite Turkish claims of success, there is no independent confirmation that aerial raids have diminished its fighting capacity.
The rebels have not staged any large-scale ambushes since October, but two police were injured in a blast late Tuesday in the town of Yuksekova, in Hakkari province, where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet.
Police said the bomb was detonated by remote control as the police vehicle passed by, the Anatolia news agency reported. One officer was seriously hurt in the explosion, which shattered windows in nearby homes and offices. Police set up roadblocks at the entrance of the city to try to catch the assailants.
In the overnight gathering near Mount Cudi, Kurdish lawmakers and supporters slept in tents and danced around a camp fire at dawn.
They urged the Turkish Parliament to rescind the authorization that it gave to the government to carry out cross-border raids against the PKK, saying the guerrillas in turn should refrain from hostilities.
“We don’t need another 30 years or another 30,000 deaths to understand that the policy of violence doesn’t solve the Kurdish problem,” lawmaker Emine Ayla said in a speech from the top of a bus.
Ayla also called for an improvement in the “living and health conditions” of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the PKK who is serving a life sentence on an island prison.
In defiance of Turkish law, some people in the crowd held posters that showed Ocalan’s image.
Meanwhile, Turkish legislators held a heated debate yesterday on a proposal to allow women to wear Islamic head scarves in universities, a move that has pitted the Islamist-rooted government against secularist forces.
The proposal was tabled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which argues that an existing ban on head scarves — imposed after a 1980 military coup — violates freedom of conscience and the right to education.
The move to overturn the ban has angered secularists, including the army, judiciary and academics, who see the head scarf as a symbol of defiance against the strict separation of state and religion, one of the founding principles of the 84-year-old republic.
Yesterday’s session saw opposition and government lawmakers trading personal barbs and accusing each other of political opportunism, forcing the speaker to adjourn the session at least once.
The package “aims to render the principle of secularism ineffective,” Hakki Suha Okay of the strictly secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told the assembly.
“This step will encourage radical (Islamic) circles in Turkey, accelerate movement toward a state founded on religion, lead to further demands” against the spirit of the republic, he said. The CHP has already threatened to challenge the reform in court if its is adopted.
The Democratic Society Party also opposed the reform, with MP Aysel Tugluk arguing that it would only “lead to chaos and more problems rather than solve any.” The proceedings were expected to last late into the night as lawmakers must vote separately on the two planned constitutional amendments in the package before voting on the reform in its entirety.
6. Top Kurd: a Kirkuk vote or automatic KRG
KIRKUK, Iraq, Feb. 6 (UPI) — A top Kurd in the Kirkuk Provincial Council warns of joining Iraqi Kurdistan automatically if a referendum for the oil-rich province doesn’t take place.
Iraq’s Constitution calls for a referendum for voters in Kirkuk and other disputed territories in Iraq’s northern area, just outside the official area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
A long process, capped by a referendum, was to take place by Dec. 31, 2007. A U.N.-orchestrated agreement was reached days before that date, giving all sides six months to figure out a solution. Iraq’s Kurdish leaders demand a vote while Arabs, Turkomen and others want a negotiated settlement.
“We understand and are in favor of the U.N.’s idea of how to implement Article 140,” said Councilmember Mohammed Kamal, who is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two main Kurdish parties in Iraq, the al-Mashriq newspaper reports. “If the international and Iraqi efforts fail we will be in favor of following the choice of the original inhabitants of Kirkuk as well as the choice of the official and legal Kirkuk council that was elected in 2005.”
Saddam Hussein kicked Kurds and other ethnicities out of Kirkuk and the disputed territories, replacing them with Arab Muslims, mostly Sunni. He also redrew the provincial boundaries, taking out territories that, not coincidentally, included large oil reserves.
An estimated 15 billion of Iraq’s 115 billion barrels are located in the Kirkuk fields. It’s also the start of a pipeline sending crude to Iraq’s biggest refinery, in Baiji, and exporting oil to Turkey.
“If the government waivers in implementing the article the solution will then be determined by the will of the inhabitants of Kirkuk and its councils,” Kamal said. “They will deal with the Iraqi government through the KRG.”
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, recently visited Kirkuk and met with leaders, including its governor.
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Pro-PKK Party Protests Raids in Iraq