The President of Turkey Abdullah Gul arrived in Iraq today, March 23, 2009. His started goal was to work with the government of Iraq to end the Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) insurgency against Ankara. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani recently announced that he expected the PKK to end their fighting with Turkey in the coming months, and called on them to lay down their arms while meeting with President Gul. In April or May a meeting is planned in Irbil, Iraq of Kurds from throughout the region including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Europe. Talabani believes that the conference, in conjunction with moves by the Turkish government will lead the PKK to give up their armed struggle.
Talabani made his prediction while attending a water conference in Turkey in mid-March. There he met with President Gul and Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both times, the leaders discussed the plight of the PKK. Specifically, Turkey is constructing a new reconciliation program with its Kurdish population. Already the Turks have given Kurds more rights, and opened a Kurdish language TV station. With regards to the PKK, Ankara is considering a new amnesty program that would allow PKK fighters to return to Turkey, and its leaders travel to other parts of Europe if they wish. Turkey is also trying to ensure Iraq’s cooperation on this matter as it has increased ties with both Baghdad and Kurdistan. Gul’s visit to Iraq was part of this effort. The PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey, said that he looks forward to this new proposal.
The PKK has been fighting the Turks since 1984. They claim that they do not want independence, but rights for Kurds in Turkey. The group has an estimated 4,000-5,000 fighters who are based in Iraq’s Kurdistan. Although the PKK is considered a terrorist group by many countries, Iraq’s Kurdish officials have given them unofficial support.
If Talabani’s statement comes true, the Kurdish meeting in Irbil could be an important turning point. The PKK presence in Iraq has complicated its relations with Turkey, made other regional countries worry that the Kurdistan Regional Government is allowing its territory to be used by various Kurdish guerrilla and independence movements, and been another source of tension with Baghdad. Every few months the Turks have attacked PKK bases as a result, the most recent having occurred this month. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has also demanded that the PKK camps be shut down, but the Kurdish authorities have refused. An amnesty program and cessation of attacks could be the political solution to this complicated matter.
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