Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government announced Feb. 25 that ExxonMobil has begun exploring for oil in the region, stressing that the constitution allow the KRG to sign contracts with foreign oil companies. KRG spokesman Safeen Dezae Spokesman said the KRG looks forward to the development of new oilfields in the region by the transnational giant. But Bahgdad reiterated its rejection of the deal as illegal, and stressed that Exxon must choose between contracts with the KRG or the central government. "We made it clear to Exxon in the last meeting that the answer we expected from them is to either work in the Kurdistan region or to work in southern Iraq," Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi told reporters in Baghdad. (World Bulletin, Turkey, Feb. 26)
Recent reports (LAT, Jan. 19) have militia forces of the Kurdish National Council battling jihadist rebels of the Nusra Front for control of villages along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey. The jihadists seem to be alarmingly well-armed, using tanks and artillery to attack Kurdish positions and civilian neighborhoods in Ras Ayn village. There is a growing sense that the Islamization of the rebels is solidifying an alliance between the secular-minded Kurds and the Damascus regime—with much fear about the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the separatist group in Turkey which is on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.
Unknown gunmen attacked an office of the Kurdistan Information Center in Paris on Jan. 9, killing three women: Sakine Cansız, a legendary founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); Fidan Doğan, Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress (KNK); and Leyla Söylemez, also of the KNK. Outraged Kurds poured into the street in Paris, blaming Turkey in the attack. Turkish officials meanwhile said the killings were probably a dispute among Kurds, perhaps intended to derail new peace talks between the government and the PKK's imprisoned leader, or to settle a score. (NYT, Hurriyet Daily News, Jan. 10)
An ongoing stand-off between an elite force of Iraq's national army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces around the contested northern city of Kirkuk led to skirmishes that left two dead and several wounded at the village of Tuz Khurmatu this week. The army's Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command (DOC), launched in June by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was ostensibly sent to put down the remnants of insurgency in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahaddin governates. But local Kurdish leaders—including Kirkuk governor Najmaddin Karim, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—charge that the real aim of the deployment is to prevent Kirkuk governate from be annexed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), now made up of the governorates of Erbil (also Arbil or Irbil), Slemani (Sulaymaniya) and Duhok. (See map.) A referendum on the future of Kirkuk, mandated by Aritcle 140 of Iraq's constitution, has been repeatedly put off by the central government.
The main Islamist rebel groups in Aleppo on Nov. 19 rejected the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc, saying they want an Islamic state. "We, the fighting squads of Aleppo city and province, unanimously reject the conspiratorial project called the National Coalition and announce our consensus to establish an Islamic state" in Syria, a spokesman announced in an Internet video. "We reject any external coalitions or councils imposed on us at home from any party whatsoever." The unidentified speaker, sitting at the head of a long table with some 30 other men and a black Islamist flag on the wall, named 14 armed groups as signatories to the statement, including al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid. Ahrar al-Sham rejected the proclamation on its official webpage, however, saying that its leadership did not endorse the statement.
The Turkish military carried out a ground operation against guerillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq Nov. 6, followed by airstrikes in the Kandil Mountains along the border in the following days. Turkish Maroon Beret troops crossed the border and went five kilometers into northern Iraqi to carry out an operation against PKK forces, and returned to Turkey after completing the operation. No official statements have been released by the General Staff about the ground operation pr air strikes, but they were confirmed by local officials on both the Turkish and Iraqi sides of the border. Skirmishes were also reported in Turkey's southeastern province of Şırnak, leaving at least three PKK fighters dead, while 23 people were detained in the eastern province of Van on charges of attacking schools with Molotov cocktails over the past months. This past summer saw an upsurge in PKK attacks in southeast Turkey, notably in the Hakkari region. (Reuters, Nov. 9; Today's Zaman via Phantom Report, Nov. 7)
Thousands have held demonstrations in Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir over the past month to show solidarity with Kurdish political prisoners who have been on hunger strike in Turkey. About 70 Kurdish prisoners started an indefinite hunger strike in prisons across the country on Sept. 12. In the ensuing weeks, hundreds more prisoners have joined them, with the total refusing food now standing at 715. Their demands include greater cultural and political rights for Trukey's Kurds, the country's largest ethnic minority that now numbers some 20 million. Most of the strikers are supporters of the outlawed Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the so-called "urban branch" of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is labelled a "terrorist organization." They come from a wide range of backgrounds: journalists, students, teachers, professionals, lawyers, town mayors, and even two elected members of parliament. The strikers’ first demand is the "right to defense in Kurdish"—that is, the ability to give their testimony in Turkish courts in their native tongue. The Turkish government is refusing to consider their demands, and has repeatedly unleahsed repression against protesters marching in support of the hunger strikers.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, top leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, announced in an audio message July 22 a new plan to free imprisoned militants, attack the Iraq's judiciary and retake lost territory. "We are setting off a new stage of our struggle, with the launch of a plan named 'Breaking the Walls,'" said the message, which urged the Sunni tribal leaders to send their men to join his movement. "On the occasion of the return of the Islamic State to the regions that we had evacuated from, I urge you to send your sons to join the mujahedeen to defend your religion and honor." He also threatened the US, saying "You will see them [al-Qaeda militants] at the heart of your country with God's willing, since our war against you has just started." (WSJ, RFE/RL, July 22)