Kudos to Richard A. Oppel, Jr. of the New York Times for bringing attention to the conflict between the Kurdish guerrillas and Iran during the time attention is on the Turkish- Kurdish imbroglio and the possible US connection.
There has already been some good reporting on the conflict. Seymour Hersh referred to PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) and the US support for it in a New Yorker piece in November 2006. Juan Cole talked about it here. And independent journalist Reese Erlich has done much work trying to see if PJAK is receiving support from the United States as well as Israel. But a front page story with pictures and interviews with guerrilla leaders brings the right amount of attention.
The conflict between Iran and PJAK which is the Iranian affiliate of PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), has been going on for a while, involving Iranian incursions and repeated shelling of the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan.
But Oppel’s story is significant for reasons that go beyond front-page attention to a largley neglected issue by the mainstream media. First, the story sheds light on the extent of the operation, involving relatively large numbers of Iranian casualties (the claim is 150 since August) as well as some captured (one even interviewed by Oppel).
Second, the story does not beat around the bush and rightly states that PJAK is essentially the same as PKK (“they share leadership, logistics, and allegiance to Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader imprisoned in Turkey”). This is an important point because PKK is on US’s list of terrorist groups and precisely for this reason the United States would like to avoid any hint of association with the group, particularly now that Turkey is demanding the US to bring pressure on the Kurdish Regional Government to clamp down on the activities of PKK.
But association with PJAK is exactly what the United States is accused of by the government of Iran. This association (direct and indirect) is also not denied by the interviewed members of PJAK whose leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, visited Washington last summer.
Oppel does not inquire how a leader of a terrorist organization received a visa to the United States. I assume the answer would be that PJAK as a separate organization from PKK is not on the terrorist list (which is true) and Oppel seems satisfied with the diplomatic answer that Haj-Ahmadi did not meet with US officials while in Washington and does not probe further.
This answer makes the United States seem only slightly less hypocritical in its support of PJAK than the support it gives to Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), an Iranian opposition organization group based in Iraq which is on US’ list of terrorist groups. But this begs the further question of why is PJAK not on the list.
But I am digressing here from the third and most important aspect of Oppel’s piece which is a quote from Cmdr. Scott Rye of the Navy identified as “an American military spokesman in Baghdad. Rye says, “The consensus is that US forces are not working with or advising the PJAK.”
This is a strange statement (the consensus is?!) and nothing in it precludes the possibility of American hardware and financial support for the organization. Oppel unfortunately does not offer further clarifications. It is possible that as in the case of PKK, PJAK is also supported by Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish regional government. But if the implication of the quote above are correct and indeed financial and hardware support for PJAK does come from the United States, then all sorts of questions are raised regarding US policy.
Does the US not mind that part of its support for PJAK may be transferred to and used by PKK against Turkey? What does Turkey think about all this? (okay, this one is a rhetorical question!)Does the fact that the US is knowingly supporting PJAK explain the American silence in the face of Iranian raids into Iraqi Kurdistan? Doesn’t it sound pretty suspicious that in the light of all the hoopla about the Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps' (IRGC) meddling in Iraq, the American government has remained silent regarding actual Iranian incursions into and shelling of Iraqi territory or even the existence of uniformed captured IRGC members? Is this because the US does not want any probing of the association or because of the embarrassingly contradictory position it has to take regarding the similar actions taken by Turkey and Iran against Kurdish guerrillas? Isn’t this an incredibly stupid way of solidifying Turkish-Iranian relations at the time when the stated policy of the United States is to isolate Iran in the region?
I don’t know the answers to all these questions but I hope someone is asking further questions and putting the administration on the spot.