BAGHDAD, Oct. 18 "” Turkey's decision to allow the dispatch of troops over Iraq's border in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas throws into relief a troubling quandary for Iraq's leaders.
On one hand, Iraq wants a cordial relationship with Turkey, a powerhouse in the region and a counterweight to the competing pulls of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
But Iraq has been able to do little to halt the rebel group's activities because Iraq's central government must rely on its ethnic Kurdish minority, which populates the region where the guerrillas are active, to take a stand against them.
Another factor complicating matters for the Iraqi government is that the Qandil mountains of the border region with Turkey are among the most rugged areas in the Middle East, and the area has never been fully under any government control.
Iraq's Kurdish region has been semi-autonomous since 1991 and controls its own armed forces, which also patrol the border with Turkey. All ethnic Kurds, they are reluctant to fight the rebels because it means fighting brother Kurds, with whom they are generally sympathetic.
The guerrillas are ethnic Kurds who come primarily from Turkey and speak Turkish. The rebel group, known by its Turkish initials P.K.K., has an estimated 3,000 fighters in the mountains of northwest Iraq, from which they carry out attacks on Turkey. In the past, the rebel group has aspired to have an autonomous state in Turkey, though it is unclear exactly what the group's demands are now.
While the Kurds in northern Iraq are not thought to participate in the activities of the Turkish rebel group, neither have they sought vigorously to eradicate the rebels "” in part because it would be tantamount to going after their own. "The P.K.K. members are Kurds just as we are," said Rebwar Karem, 31, a student at Sulaimaniya University on Thursday. "The state of Turkey hates the Kurds so while we don't respect the armed struggle of the Kurds in Turkey, I'm against anyone who orders them to leave" the Kurdish area of Iraq.