There have been recent reports of Turkey and Iran shelling sites inside the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. The attacks supposedly target the Kurdish terrorist organization the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Both countries claim the PKK is hiding in the mountains on the Iraqi side of the border, and from there launching terrorist attacks into Turkey and Iran. VOA's Brian Padden visited the village of Kani Masi located near the Turkish border and files this report.
To construction worker Mohammed Zeki the occasional sounds of mortar shells exploding in the nearby mountains have become almost routine.
Zeki says, "The workers and I were here when it happened. And I told them not to be afraid. It is not bombing. It is like a rainstorm. Don't be afraid. There are no terrorists here. So get back to work."
Mohammed Zeki lives and works in the mountain village of Kani Masi, located near the Turkish border. Zeki and most who live here say the occasional shelling into the nearby mountains is being carried out by the Turkish military. They say Iraqi authorities have told them that the Turks are trying to target and kill PKK guerillas operating in the border region.
The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, formerly advocated the use of violence to unite the Kurds of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria into an independent state, and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
So far, no one has been killed or injured in the shelling near Kani Masi. Ahmed Ali, a journalist with the Voice of Kurdistan, the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party's radio station, says Turkey has shelled this region 10 times in the last year. Ali pointed out the dark brown marks in the distant hills that he says indicate the locations of the shellings. He also shares close-up photographs of what he says are the mortar remains of one such attack. Ali says he believes Turkey's true intention is to destabilize the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Ali says, "When people are made afraid and intimidated, this grows. In fact, I tell you the shelling by the Turks in our villages is an attempt to destabilize us and destroy our security."
The Turkish military has been operating inside the border region of Iraq since the mid-1990s. During a visit to Kani Masi, a VOA reporter passed a number of Turkish military checkpoints and spoke with the commander of the Turkish forces in the area. He declined VOA's request for an interview.
For its part, the Turkish government does not comment on the presence of Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq and denies its military has carried out artillery or mortar shelling in the region.
In an interview with VOA, the Kurdistan Regional Government spokesman, Khaled Salih, condemned the artillery and mortar shelling in the area.
"The government's reaction to all shelling has been very clear," said Khaled Salih. "Its not acceptable."
Before the latest round of shelling, Kurdish officials were cautious in describing the situation in the border region. In an interview with VOA in July, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani, said past PKK terrorist attacks provoked a Turkish military presence in Iraq of approximately one thousand troops.
"The PKK harmed us a lot, " Mr. Barzani said. "And these Turkish troops have come to the Kurdistan region in coordination with the Kurdistan region authorities. They came in 1995-96," the prime minister says. "There is nothing serious at the border. They have built up some troops on their side of the border and a couple of times there has been some shelling on the Iraqi Kurdistan side. A couple, nothing more than that."
Now, Salih says the regional government's official position is that negotiations are the only way to resolve this complex situation.
"The Kurdistan Regional Government believes strongly that there is no military solution," he said. "For those issues you have to work within a wider political process so that you will bring in groups that are against specific policies. So that they will be more and more involved in the political dialogue rather than making them more militant."
To be effective, Salih concludes, such negotiations should include the PKK.