Der Spiegel reports: The headquarters of one the world’s mightiest terrorist organization is located in the mountains northeast of Erbil, Iraq. Or is it the nerve center of one of the Western world’s most crucial allies? It all depends on how one chooses to look at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
All visits to the site in northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains must first be authorized by PKK leaders, and the process is not immediate. But after days of waiting, our phone finally rings. “Get ready, we’re sending our driver,” the voice at the other end of the line says. He picks us up in the morning and silently drives us up the winding roads into the mountains. At one point, we pass the burned out remains of a car destroyed by Turkish bombs three years ago, killing the family inside. The wreckage has been left as a kind of memorial. The driver points to it and breaks his silence. “Erdogan has gone nuts,” he says.
Just behind the Kurdish autonomous government’s final checkpoint, the car rounds a bend in the road and suddenly Abdullah Öcalan’s iconic moustache appears, part of a giant mural made of colored stones on the opposite hillside. The machine-gun toting guards wear the same mustache. “Do you have a permit, colleagues?” they ask.
Officially, we’re in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. Really, though, it is a PKK state. A region of 50 square kilometers (19 square miles) of rugged, mountainous territory, it provides a home for PKK leadership in addition to training camps for fighters. It also has its own police force and courts. The surrounding hillsides are idyllic with their pomegranate trees, flocks of sheep and small stone huts. But they are also dotted with Humvees, captured by the PKK from the Islamic State terrorist militia, which had stolen them from the Iraqi army.
It is here in the Qandil Mountains that PKK leaders coordinate their fight against Islamic State jihadists in the Syrian town of Kobani and in the Iraqi metropolis of Kirkuk in addition to the ongoing battle in the Sinjar Mountains. Turkey, some fear, could soon be added to the list. [Continue reading…]