Proxy Wars in Kurdistan?

Last month Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani went to Tehran to meet with top-level Iranian leaders. On the agenda was PJAK, The Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan. Barzani has also met with Turkish envoys to discuss the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. PJAK is an Iranian offshoot of the PKK and is based in Iraqi Kurdistan, often fighting across Iraq-Iran borders with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The outlawed PKK, founded by its now imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, also operates from areas inside Iraqi Kurdistan.

One question that often crops up is whether or not PJAK is funded by the United States to fight Iran. Proxy wars are nothing new. One example is the US support of the mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. So it’s not totally far-fetched to think they’d be messing around in northern Iraq, funding a militant separatist group to stir things up in Iran. In fact, it sounds very much like what the US would do.

Seymour Hersh wrote in a New Yorker piece (Preparing the Battlefield, 07 July 2008) that the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was behind the support of PJAK. He also states that “JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.”

But the situation is rapidly changing. PJAK attacks along the Iranian border have been decreasing considerably over the past year. And last week PJAK announced it was halting all operations in Iran and would begin fighting the Turkish military. A couple days ago Hürriyet announced an agreement between the Turkish government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. According to the agreement Barzani (KRG president) will cut links between Europe and the PKK, and allow the “deployment of special Turkish forces to a number of strategic points in northern Iraq, in addition to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, in order to cut logistic, political and military support to the PKK.” If implemented the outcome would see Turkish recognition of the Barzani administration and Turkey would open an embassy in Arbil (Hewler).

With tensions rising within Iraq itself between Kurds and Arabs, particularly over control of Kirkuk, perhaps Barzani is hedging his bets with the Turks to maintain some sense of stability in his fledging autonomous region.

Sources:

Preparing the Battlefield, New Yorker, Seymour Hersh, 07 July 2008
PJAK attatcks along Iran borders decline, PressTV online, 10 November 2008
Barzani discusses security, PJAK threat in Tehran talks, 24 October 2008
Turkey, Kurdish administration in N.Iraq agree on PKK fight plan, Hürriyet Daily News online, 13 November 2008

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