In Iraq bastions, PKK braces for new war with Turkey

Qandil Mountains (Iraq) (AFP) - Pointing to a crater left by one of scores of Turkish air strikes in Iraq's Kurdistan region, a PKK rebel official said that "Turkey has declared war against us".

For three decades, Turkey was at war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which was seeking an independent state in southeastern Anatolia.

But two years ago, after months of secret talks with Ankara, jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan called on his people to lay down their arms and withdraw to their mountain bases in northern Iraq.

An uneasy truce since then came crashing to an end Friday when Turkish fighter jets began bombing PKK positions in the Qandil area as well as some camps north of the city of Dohuk, further west.

"We were committed to the ceasefire up until the very last moment but Turkey was not," said Zagros Hiwa, a member of the PKK political leadership, a large portrait of Ocalan hanging from the wall behind him.

"Now we will protect ourselves and follow our own strategy," he said without elaborating.

Hiwa said at least five PKK members have been killed since then, and another four wounded.

There were reports that some civilians were wounded north of Dohuk.

At one PKK base in Qandil, there was no sign of extensive destruction but some buildings were damaged, as was a graveyard for PKK fighters.

Hiwa said he could not take reporters to the political leadership's main base further up the mountain for "security reasons," and the extent of the destruction there remained unclear.

He showed AFP huge craters caused by air strikes but they were mostly in wooded areas and did not appear to have struck any targets.

- Fleeing villagers -

In recent days, the PKK has been blamed for a string of attacks against Turkish government targets, which Ankara says justifies its renewed military campaign against them.

On the same day it struck the PKK in Iraq, the Turkish air force for the first time raided the Islamic State group in Syria.

Ankara has long been accused of covertly supporting the jihadists, and some analysts have suggested its strikes on IS were merely providing cover for its onslaught against the Kurds.

Hiwa argued that by striking Kurdish fighters, NATO member Turkey had done more to help IS over the past week than to bolster the US-led coalition's war on the jihadist group.

"Turkey is using NATO and the international community's war against IS to attack the PKK, and the Kurds in general, who are the main fighting force against IS," he said.

Rasul Abdullah Faqi, a father of seven from Inzi, a village at the foot of the Qandil mountains affected by the strikes, said the population lived in fear of more air raids.

"The strikes hit our village in several spots and we have lost a lot of cattle. Some of our farms were damaged or burned down," the 40-year-old said.

He pulled his donkey out of an enclosure to show a makeshift bandage he wrapped around his animal to cover a deep wound in the withers.

"There are no PKK members in my village, they're further up, quite far from here," said Faqi, wearing the traditional Kurdish baggy "sherwal" trousers and a black keffieh wrapped around his head.

"The people are scared, some have left but many are staying and will stay until the bitter end," he said.

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