Wednesday, September 19, 2007


"They are targeting the area under the pretext that the PKK and PJAK are there, but they're not hitting the positions. Iran's actual goals, which they will not announce, is to strike the U.S. and destabilize Iraq."
~ Anonymous PKK official.

There's an excellent little article by Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on PJAK. Even though Ms. Hiel tries to go all mysterious when talking about PJAK's origins, at least she gets the translation of PJAK correct--something not even Michael Totten can do. Also, unlike Michael Totten, she actually went to talk with PJAK.

Without further ado:

QANDIL RANGE, Iraq -- Off a rocky mountain road meandering through creek beds, a small, stone military outpost is hidden near the Iraq-Iran border.

Peach, pomegranate and fig trees tremble in the hot breeze. Under a thatched-roof awning, leafy vines cover the outer walls and offer a little relief from the intense sun. A young Iranian guerrilla listens to music on an iPod as his comrades hang Kalashnikov assault rifles, ammunition belts and walkie-talkies on a beam behind the vines.

Amin Karimi, 34, a soft-spoken, bespectacled man, drinks sweet tea and describes his battle against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"If they attack us, we will fight," says Karimi, one of nine leaders of the Free Life Party of Kurdistan, or PJAK, an Iranian-Kurdish guerrilla group fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Iran.

That fight has turned more intense in the past month, with almost daily clashes. Except for the rare car-bombing, it is the only warfare in Kurdistan, Iraq's one largely peaceful region, and the only sustained fighting reported inside Iran.

PJAK claims to have destroyed an Iranian helicopter trying to land in Iraq and killed a dozen or more Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers in battles. Iran has shelled the area, forcing villagers to flee and prompting protests by Iraq's foreign minister.

Iran denies launching any attacks. Yet interviews of villagers -- and landscapes littered with twisted metal from artillery or rocket attacks - suggest otherwise.

In nearby Soreguli, a stone-house village of 10 families, Abubakir Khokoresh, 58, stands on ground charred, he says, by Iranian shells and rockets.

"We are afraid," he says. "Some of our livestock were killed and our grain supply for the winter was burned." Asked where the shelling came from, he points toward the border and says, "Iran."

Villagers here and elsewhere accuse Iran and Turkey of coordinating artillery attacks on northern Iraq. Iranian leaflets distributed in border villages warn of more.

[ . . . ]

Meanwhile, Turkey is pressuring Iraq -- including frequent threats to invade -- to rid the mountains of the PKK, a Turkish-Kurdish separatist group. The PKK draws its troops from the 27 million to 35 million Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

PJAK's Karimi is not worried.

"These areas are under our control and there is stability," he says. "They can't make stability and security even in Baghdad, how can you control these areas in the mountains? ... No government can control it -- Saddam couldn't control this area.

"We help the people here."

Most villagers agree, crediting the PKK and PJAK with keeping them safe.

Before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Islamic groups such as Ansar Al Islam, with links to al-Qaida and Iran, controlled areas along this mountainous border; brutally enforcing its rule on villages. Karimi says his fighters are essential to preventing the Islamists' return, because "if an Islamic group comes to these mountains, nobody can take them out."

PJAK doesn't have much time for the America's Kurdish anti-Iranian party of choice:

Karimi dismisses Komala and other Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties

"Until now, we fight against Iran and they fight each other," he says. "It's terrible."

While denying that PJAK is a PKK offshoot, he admits that "our ideas are the same." Like PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey, Karimi hopes for a confederation of all Kurds within their national borders instead of a single Kurdish state.

He likens it to the states' rights of America's federal system.

"They have their own rules and they have contacts with foreign countries, but they are American, all of them," he says.

He stresses that PJAK is secular, unlike the ever-growing number of Islamic movements across the Middle East.

[ . . . ]

"Kurdish women have the biggest dynamism ... to make a better life, for democracy and a new system," he says. "They really fight better than us and make politics better than us."

In 2006, Ohio congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, who accuses President Bush of exaggerating Iran's threat to U.S. security, and journalist Seymour Hersh claimed the United States and Israel support and train PJAK.

Karimi calls that Iranian propaganda and flatly denies receiving U.S. support.

"We had some contacts because the Americans are here in Iraq and they are our neighbors now," he says. "Sometimes they want to know who is PJAK and what we are doing here ... but we have no cooperation. We don't need it."

Instead, he says, his force is politically independent and "self-reliant. Our people give us everything. Also, we don't know about American priorities and politics (toward) Iran. ... The American government never speaks about Iranian Kurds."

Still, he won't disclose how PJAK is armed.

"Our weapons are the Kalashnikov," he says, shrugging and holding both hands palms-up. "The Middle East is full of weapons. If you have money, you can buy them.

"Everyone has guns in the Middle East."

The entire article can be found at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, along with some photos.

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