Kurdish Iraqis Hang On To Fragile Peace

Turkish people wave national flags as they protest against the separatist Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007.
This report was written by CBS News' Elizabeth Palmer, who is on a tour of duty in Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have been congratulating themselves on their region's stability until the past few days, when Turkey started preparations to invade.

The Turks want to wipe out PKK guerilla fighters who hide in the steep Kurdish mountains of northern Iraq, and use the area as a base for launching attacks on Turkish soldiers. Most recently, PKK blew up a bridge as a Turkish army convoy was crossing it, killing at least 11 and taking eight hostages.

Iraqi Kurds have a lot to lose. This part of the country is, at the moment, unique. People can go to work without expecting to be blown up on the way. Children can walk to school without fear of being kidnapped. The Kurdish government is even making deals with foreign companies to develop its oil reserves.

A war with Turkey would jeopardize all that.

In fact, if the Kurds feel driven to fight either the PKK guerillas or the Turks with their well-armed Peshmerga soldiers, this region could spiral into the same kind of violence that has crippled the rest of Iraq.

As diplomats in Washington, Ankara and Baghdad work feverishly to prevent the opening of another front in the battle for Iraq, Masoud Barzani in Irbil is also talking the language of negotiation.

Barzani is the head of the influential Kurdistan Democratic Party. He is also a revered leader and strongman in the area around the city of Irbil and a battle-hardened veteran of the Kurds' civil war.

In this round of hostilities, said Barzani in an exclusive interview with CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, "there is no military solution."

Barzani, as might be expected, resists the idea of sending the Kurdish Peshmerga to catch and kill the PKK guerillas. Not because they are ethnically and culturally part of the same Kurdish nation, but because it would be a waste of time and lives.

"Because it won't solve anything," he said. "Even U.S. or Turkish special forces couldn't wipe the PKK out."

"Those mountains are an impossible battleground," said Barzani. "The Turks have been fighting and shelling this border area for three months, and they haven't even wounded any of the PKK fighters."

He would only consider sending the Peshmerga to rout out the PKK if the guerillas were offered a peaceful way to settle their dispute by Turkey and they refused.

"If Turkey made a peaceful initiative, we would tell the PKK they would have to be a part of it," said Barzani. "If they refused, then we would be ready to consider all measures against them."

And what would constitute a solution that might work?

Barzani, unusually for him, had a concrete proposal.

"A few days ago, Tayyip Erdogan told the PKK to lay down their arms and come back to the Turkish Parliament to solve their problems," said Barzani. "I think that's a wise idea. If that gesture is translated into words and deed, then it will be a practical solution."

The old fighter, appreciative of Kurdistan's recent and unique stability, sees the value of words over weapons, but there is no clear sign yet that either the Turkish army or the PKK guerillas are as convinced.