For three decades, Turkey was at war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) but two years ago, after months of secret talks with Ankara, jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan urged his people to lay down their arms and withdraw to their mountain bases in northern Iraq.
An uneasy truce since then ended Friday when Turkish fighter jets began bombing PKK positions in the Qandil area as well as some camps north of the city of Dohuk, further west.
“We were committed to the cease-fire up until the very last moment but Turkey was not,” said Zagros Hiwa, a member of the PKK political leadership, a large portrait of Ocalan hanging from the wall behind him.
“Now we will protect ourselves and follow our own strategy,” he said without elaborating.
Hiwa said at least five PKK members have been killed since then, and another four wounded. There were reports that some civilians were wounded north of Dohuk.
At one PKK base in Qandil, there was no sign of extensive destruction but some buildings were damaged, as was a graveyard for PKK fighters.
A visit to the political leadership’s main base further up the mountain was not possible due to “security reasons,” and the extent of the destruction there remained unclear.
Hiwa showed AFP huge craters caused by airstrikes but they were mostly in wooded areas and did not appear to have struck any targets.
In recent days, the PKK has been blamed for a string of attacks against Turkish government targets which Ankara says justifies its renewed military campaign. On the same day it struck the PKK in Iraq, the Turkish air force for the first time raided ISIS militants in Syria.
Critics have suggested its strikes on ISIS were merely providing cover for its onslaught against the Kurds.
Hiwa argued that by striking Kurdish fighters, NATO member Turkey had done more to help ISIS over the past week than to bolster the U.S.-led coalition’s war on the extremist group. “Turkey is using NATO and the international community’s war against ISIS to attack the PKK, and the Kurds in general, who are the main fighting force against ISIS,” he said.
Rasul Abdullah Faqi, a father of seven from Inzi, a village at the foot of the Qandil mountains, said the population lived in fear of more air raids. “The strikes hit our village in several spots and we have lost a lot of cattle. Some of our farms were damaged or burned down,” the 40-year-old said.
He pulled his donkey out of an enclosure to show a makeshift bandage he wrapped around his animal to cover a deep wound.
“There are no PKK members in my village, they’re further up, quite far from here,” Faqi said.
“The people are scared, some have left but many are staying and will stay until the bitter end,” he said.