KOYA, Iraq (AFP) – Thousands of Kurdish guerrillas have crossed the border into Iran to escape a threatened Turkish offensive against their mountain redoubts in northern Iraq, a former rebel leader said.
When and if the Turkish troops arrive, they will only be “chasing shadows”, Osman Ocalan, brother of jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, told AFP in an interview in his home in Koya in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.
“I know that since last month thousands of PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) members have crossed into Iran,” said Osman Ocalan, who spent 18 years fighting Turkish troops before abandoning the armed struggle in 2004.
“At least a thousand crossed into Turkey,” he added. “Only a small number remain in Iraq.”
PKK camps, said Ocalan, are scattered in the remote region where the borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey meet.
“They are constantly moving from one country to the other. They don’t stay long in one place.
“The aim is not to offer targets. They know that one should not face the Turks directly, but rather carry out specific guerrilla operations against them.”
PKK rebels, he added, receive support from Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
“When they pass from one area to another, they always have people on whom they can rely.”
Osman Ocalan, who lived the life of a guerrilla between 1986 and 2004, said the PKK camps are in inaccessible places high in the mountains rich in caves and steep valleys.
The Kurdish guerrillas, he added, know the rugged terrain like the backs of their hands.
“Some caves can accommodate 450 people sitting, others are smaller but undetectable,” he said. “There are many fallback positions.”
An invasion, expected since last month when the Turkish parliament gave the go-ahead for military reprisals against PKK rebels who staged a bloody ambush of Ankara’s troops, would not be the first against the PKK in the region.
“In 1992 it was similar. And then they had the support of the two Kurdish parties of Iraq and their men. They claimed, to make propaganda, to have killed more than 2,000 of ours, but I can assure you no more than 150 died,” he said.
“This time as well, if they attack, we will suffer losses but only minor ones. They will not manage to get rid of us like this.”
According to him, PKK rebels will only agree to lay down their arms if his brother, who has become a semi-cult figure to his followers, is released from jail and Turkey transforms itself “into a federal state, based on the German model.”
He stressed that he himself had left the rebellion “to be able to have a personal life, to begin a family… The PKK does not allow it.”
Osman Ocalan, whose family has the right to make weekly half-hour visits to the PKK leader on the prison island of Imrali, south of Istanbul, where he is the sole inmate, also said that his brother’s health was “bad”.
He charged that Turkey is denying urgent medical treatment to his brother and that suicide bombers would strike Turkish cities if he dies in prison.
“Thousands of people will die in Turkey, civilians as well as soldiers,” he warned.