Friday, Aug. 14, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to take action if the bases of the separatist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq were not shut down.
“If Iraq doesn’t address the Qandil issue, we will do it,” he said in a televised speech.
Little did he expect to be pre-empted by a stab in the back from an unforeseen quarter – even as the Kurdish issue gyrates at dizzying speed from one twist to the next.
The first twist came last month when, after Turkey and the US agreed to fight ISIS together in Syria, Ankara used the deal to get its own back for a terrorist attack by launching a heavy air blitz on PKK Qandil command posts in Iraq and a crackdown on its members, after two years of on-and-off peace talks.
Turkish air strikes hit areas where Kurdish forces had achieved the rare feat of recovering territory grabbed by the Islamic State.
Turkey also turned its ire on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militias of northern Syria, which had absorbed some PKK officers in its ranks and entertained autonomous ambitions.
These Syrian Kurds had also displayed prowess in pushing ISIS back from its acquisitions near the Turkish border.
PKK bases lifted secretly out of Qandil to… asylum in Iran
Washington tried to put the original deal back on track by demanding that Ankara focus on battling the jihadis. This demand was only partly heeded. Turkey slowed, but did not stop, its air strikes against PKK targets.
The next twist occurred this week. On Tuesday, Aug. 18, PKK leader Cemil Bayik, one of the three-man interim leadership council of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), revealed that his group had indirectly applied to Washington to mediate its feud with Turkey – even though the PKK is listed in the US as terrorists.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources reveal that this statement was just a decoy and a double-twist.
It masked a totally unforeseen, stealthy PKK step, which completely floored Washington, no less than Ankara, when it came to light.
Bayik and other PKK leaders, having quickly caught on to Iran’s new post-nuclear deal status, decided to see what they could get out of the newly-anointed Middle East big shot.
Their secret negotiations with Tehran ripened overnight into swift action. Over the Aug. 14-16 weekend, Kurdish bases and command centers conducted a moonlight flit from the Qandil Mountains. They were lifted – lock, stock and barrel – to prepared camps in Iran, 20 km from the town of Mahabad, by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Kurds working on both sides of the Iraqi-Iranian frontier.
Kurds pledge to discontinue terrorist attacks in Iran
DEBKA Weekly’s sources reveal that the PKK’s part of this deal was a pledge to halt forthwith its own military and terrorist operations on Iranian soil – and those of its Iranian counterpart, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK).
By stealing the Turkish Kurdish separatists from under US and Turkish noses, Tehran achieved a coup in four strategic areas:
1. Exclusive domination over the region’s leading Kurdish groups in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, thereby satisfying an old Iranian ambition.
2. A strong card for a deal with President Masoud Barzani, head of the autonomous Kurdish Region, who governs a wide stretch of northern Iraq.
3. A position of strength against Turkey’s Erdogan as middleman between Ankara and the PKK.
4. Syrian ruler Bashar Assad is relieved of rebel Kurdish military pressure on his troops. He too must accept Tehran as the key broker between the Kurds of the Syrian YPG and his regime.
The big losers from the stealthy Iranian-PKK coup are the United States and Turkey.
The Obama administration has long hesitated to grant the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga army the heavy weapons it needs to drive Islamic State invaders out of northern Iraq.
Now, Washington appears to have let this option drop into Tehran’s hands.
As for Ankara, although Iran promised to “take care” of the Syrian Kurds’ quest for autonomy (see separate article), it cheated Erdogan by quietly snatching the PKK right out of his reach.