Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Kurds in North Iraq wait for Turkish attack

AFP , KHIZAVA, IRAQ

Kurdish soldiers patrol the area along a pit in the northern city of Arbil, the capital of Iraq's northern Kurdish region, on Nov. 8.

PHOTO: AFP

Nervous Iraqi Kurds in the village of Khizava, along the border with Turkey, are awaiting a Turkish attack on Kurdish rebels, although many believe the guerrillas will prove elusive.

In Khizava, anxiety was palpable when the humming of a US drone filled the sky overhead, prompting residents to strain their ears and look up.

"I'm sure the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] fighters are not up there. They have left. They will not wait to be bombed," Khaled Hassan, 32, said.

Hassan and two of his cousins crouched by the side of the main road leading out of Khizava and onto the mountain summits, which the PKK use as hideouts because they are difficult to penetrate.

Iraqi Kurdish policemen and soldiers manned checkpoints nearby, allowing only villagers to enter.

Hassan and his cousins are optimistic that Turkish tanks will not rumble into the village to hunt down the PKK.

"We often hear the sound of the guns, but I do not believe that the Turkish tanks will come this time," he said. "Everything will be fine."

Schoolteacher Abdulmajid, who declined to give his full name, echoed Hassan's view.

Two weeks ago he accompanied British journalists to a PKK position where they were met by "only two" rebels, he said.

"They told us that they had received orders to leave for the Iranian border or Turkey," Abdulmajid said.

"The Turks will destroy the bases which they know or those which the Americans will inform them about thanks to their drones. But there will be no one inside. The PKK have secret positions to fall back on. They will hide and wait till the end of the storm," he said.

But other residents of Khizava, which is nestled on the slopes of Mount Sindi a few kilometers away from the Turkish border, were not quite so sure.

Jihan Ali, a 31-year-old mother of five, recalled that the Turkish air force bombed PKK rebels in the village in 1997.

"Of course, we are afraid of the Turks. If they attack, we will leave," she said, with the matter-of-fact look of someone who has fled her home three times to escape Turkish attacks on PKK bases.

"The last time was in 1997. The PKK rebels had settled in the village and the planes bombed them," she said, as she baked bread for her barefooted children.

"These PKK men, even if they are defending their rights, bring only death and misfortune. I hate them," she said.

Her brother-in-law Edriss Mohammad said he regularly comes across PKK rebels on the mountain slopes when he takes his sheep to graze.

"They can hide well, under the trees or in the caves. If the Turks attack, they will escape, that's for sure," he said.

Around 3,500 PKK guerrillas are believed to be deployed in the rugged mountains bordering Iraq, Iran and Turkey, from where they carry cross-border attacks inside Turkey.

In an Oct. 21 ambush guerrillas crossed the border and killed 12 Turkish soldiers, angering Ankara, which has threatened to launch a military incursion inside the autonomous Kurdish-run north of Iraq to flush out the guerrillas.

Jittery residents from nearby Dashtatakh village have already fled, leaving behind only elderly and ill men to look after their homes and to feed the cattle.

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