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The PKK in Iraq: “We are ready to fight ISIS everywhere in the world”

Monday 4 April 2016

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We reach the city of Makhmur through the main road, which connects Erbil to the Nineveh province in Iraqi Kurdistan. Formally, the area is under the control of the government in Baghdad. The road is full of checkpoints of the regional Kurdish authority, where the Peshmerga of the KDP- the ruling party in this area- stop up several times and make us get out of the car for control. Another thirty kilometers away from Erbil, there is no more Peshmerga. On our right, there is a deserted road leading to Mosul, a city under the control of the Islamic State. It was there in June 2014 where the leader of ISIL Al-Baghdadi, had declared the caliphate, establishing the Islamic State which stretches from here until Raqqa in Syria.

A little further on our left, the city of Makhmur appears like a tiny ghost island in the middle of the desert, marked by empty buildings deprived of life, and abandoned since long by its inhabitants. Beyond the center, there is the checkpoint of the PKK, which has taken the control of the area, like what happened in the city of Shingal, where the Peshmerga of the KDP have proven not willing to defend the civil population, as raids and bombings were carried out by the Islmaic State. Just beyond the center, there is the refugee camp of Makhmur where thousands of Kurds live. It is the first frontier between the Islamic State and the rest of the world, where the only ones who are directly fighting ISIS are the women (YJA-Star) and the men (HPG) of the PKK.
After a welcome tea with the people of the camp, the vehicles of the HPG came to take us to the general headquarters of the refugee camp, a few kilometers in the Karacho mountain to the south, which lies under the control of the PKK. The commander Heval Jamal Andok (in the picture below – and who insists that we write Heval, which in Kurdish means comrade) sits with us under the sun for an interview.

What are the principles that inspire your party?

We have a socialist legacy, which begins with Marx arriving to Lenin. We are fighting for a socialist society. Socialism is our primary interest. The Soviet Union, the major historical socialist experience, has nonetheless made its mistakes. With that experience, the ideology was controlled by the state; it was not used for the people, but for the state. Because of this we are trying to strengthen this ideology while changing it, because if we want to construct a free society, we must protect a true socialism, a human socialism that is not for the state.
The PKK was created as a party for the Kurds, but in reality, it is nothing but a human movement for a democratic society. This is what we are witnessing today in Rojava: Autonomy and self-governance, taking in charge the collective problems, the autonomous management of society. Kurdistan, on the other hand, is a place where different nationalities live, this is why out party fights for a system in which different nationalities can live together democratically; and rejects any system based on the prevalence or the domination of a certain nation over another (which is the case, for example, of the current political system in Turkey). We are against the idea that one nation represents only one identity and only one history.
We believe that a global movement for socialism is necessary. A global revolution is necessary. The root of the problem is neither national or human, it is economic. We need to live well; we need to live a beautiful and happy life. The logic of the state is that this latter is necessary and fundamental for human coexistence, but this is not true. The state cannot live without the people, but the people could live very well without the state. We, the fighters of the HPG and YJA-Star, we are not only soldiers; we are first of all political militants. Our interest is not to kill, our desire is to live with others and lead a peaceful life, as our leader Abdullah Öcalan affirms.

We know that the HPG and the YJA-Star are now in the forefront of fighting lines in Iraq, primarily against the Islamic State, can you tell us more in this regard?

We are fighting Daesh in Rojava, in Shingal and in Makhmur. Daesh is a savage and barbaric group, an enemy of humanity. They decapitate people and are hostile towards women. In our ideology, the woman comes in the first place because she is the source of life. The real objective of Daesh is to sell oil and sell it to different states -because there are so many of them- which do business with this organization. They have attacked the refugee camp in Makhmur because they know that the refugees there support the PKK. In general, Daesh has tried to attack Basur (Southern Kurdistan in the North of Iraq, Ed) to go to war against the Kurds.
It must also be said that Daesh has links with Turkey, that is why they attacked Makhmur, which has always been under the attacks of Turkey because the refugees here come from Bakur (Northern Kurdistan in South-Eastern Turkey, Ed), and they had to cross the Iraqi border because of the attacks of the Turkish army. The attitude of Turkey is like this in general. When Daesh attacked Kobane, Turkey backed Daesh. The YPG-YPJ, who defended Kobane have never attacked Turkey, but Turkey today attacks them.
Turkey does not want that the YPG monitoring the border that Turkey shares with Syria, because the Turkish state wants that Daesh continue to control at least a portion of it, so as it can maintain a channel of contact with the external world. Even the government of Assad wants to control some locations. Lice, Cizre, Sur, Nusaybin (cities in Bakur that are under attack of the Turkish state) demonstrate that Turkey behaves in the same way as Daesh, they have the same ideology and the have the same behavior.

Have you had confrontations with the Islamic State here in Makhmur?

We have had different confrontations. For example, on the 8th of last August, Daesh attacked the camp. In the South of Mosul, there is Makhmur, and that area is controlled by the KDP (the party of the president of the Regional Kurdish Government, Massud Barzani, Ed), but they withdrew and they left the camp in Daesh hands’, they did not defend the civil population of Makhmur. The state does not protect people, and the KDP really acts on the logic of the state. We have evacuated the city and the refugee camp, our units therefore came down from the Karacho mountain, which you can see a bit further to the South, and we have fought Daesh for three days in collaboration with he PUK (The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Ed). During this battle, three of our fighters have fallen. In addition, a Kurdish journalist, Denis Firat, was killed by Daesh in the mountain.
Becaue of these raids from Mosul, we have this base of the HPG and the YJA-Star here in the camp of Makhmur. Daesh can return to attack the camp at any moment, even now they can come here; our presence is therefore needed. We assume the same role in Shingal and in kirkuk. It is a decision of our party to deploy units of the PKK in these Iraqi cities. Otherwise, we would keep our positions only in the mountains. The KDP has amply demonstrated that they do not want or they are not in a position to defend the civil population, our presence in some of cities of Iraqi Kurdistan is therefore necessary.
The PKK was fighting and is now in the frontline of fighting in Kirkuk. Perhaps soon there will an operation to take Mosul down and the PKK is ready to contribute. Mosul is a very important city to the history of humanity. Daesh has destroyed the culture in Mosul and its ancient ruins. We are ready to fight Daesh in Mosul. I want to tell you something very important, we are ready to fight Daesh everywhere in the world, not only in Kurdistan.

Iraq was invaded in 2003 by the United States and Great Britain, and subsequently occupied by these states (other states were also involved, including Italy, Poland, etc.). The United States, Great Britain and Italy still have soldiers stationed in Erbil. What is the position of the PKK towards foreign armies operating in Iraq?

Our policy is to not take the side of any state, ever. Only in the case that a state attacks, we are forced to defend ourselves, and we therefore find ourselves at war with this state. When these states will invade our Kurdistan, we will fight them. They are capitalist states. In 2003 (when the PKK already had a headquarter in Iraq, in the Qandil mountain, Ed), we did not have any links to the United States or the United Kingdom. There are ideological differences between them and us: they are capitalist states. When, however, there is the issue of human lives to save, as it is the case today with Daesh, we can build with these forces a form of tactic coordination.

What do you think of the role of Western powers in the Middle East?

The capitalist system is in crisis, which is why they are trying to solve their problem in the Middle East; they are changing governments and borders according to their interest, thus dividing people. These powers act upon the ideology of the nation-state, this is the reason of their presence here. The USA, France and Great Britain and others are nowadays in the Middle East because they want oil. This is the third world war.
Many other organizations and NGOs also come here, like these states; they say that they want to save humanity, but in reality, they are here to advance their own national interests. The same is true for the United Nations: they say that they are protecting people, but what are they doing in Sur, in Cizre to protect the Kurdish people who are massacred by the Turkish government? Nothing. All that matters is economic interest, and because of this, they have arrested our leadership. Italy and Germany have contributed to the arrest of Abdullah Öcalan seventeen years ago because of their own interest.

Recently, dozens of Turkish soldiers died in Turkey, most of them died in separate explosive attacks, one near Lice in the province of Diyarbakir (claimed by the PKK, Ed) and one in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. We know that the PKK is not involved in the Ankara attack of the 17th of February, which was claimed by TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons). What is your position regarding these actions?

These attacks are the results of the cruelty of the Turkish government, which has killed hundreds of people and destroyed entire neighborhood in cities. The Kurds cannot just stand and watch, they attempted to respond to these attacks, in which even the corps of the dead civilians have been burned by the special Turkish forces, who also burn their homes. The right of the Kurdish people to respond to all of this exists. The Kurds have to protect themselves against Daesh as well as against all their other enemies.
Many organizations exist for the liberation of Kurdistan, for example there is TAK. There are no military relations between the PKK and TAK. What unites the two is simply the fact that they are both Kurdish. There are many other groups who also act for Kurdistan. Both TAK and the PKK attack solely military targets in Turkey, not civilians (which is in fact what the Turkish government is doing). TAK has the right to protect the Kurds. The PKK has the right to protect the Kurds. The KDP, the PUK, Gorran (the opposition party in Iraqi Kurdistan, Ed) have the right to defend the Kurds.

In this time in Palestine, a new Intifada is facing different forms of attacks from the Israeli army. What is the message that the PKK would like to address to the Palestinians in this difficult time?

The PKK is not only a Kurdish party, it is conceived as universal, it does not only want to fight for the Kurds, but for everyone. The Palestinian revolution is in our hearts, we have always supported it and we always will. Our struggle is the same; our enemy is the same. They are in our hearts.

What is the massage that you want to send to the world from the desert of Iraq?

The admiration for the PKK all over the world has no limits, because our practice is the same that we find everywhere on this planet: to look for a better life and a better society. It is not easy to be guerillas in the HPG and the YJA-Star: we have to change life. We take up arms because we have to protect ourselves, many people tell us: “abandon armed struggle, put down your arms”. We cannot: we need the weapons because this is the reality of the PKK: we do what we say.

From the correspondents of Infoaut and Radio Onda d’Urto in Makhmur, Iraq

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