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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 10:14 GMT
Iraq's other Kurdish rebel group
By Jenny Cuffe
BBC News, northern Iraq

The Kandil mountains are bandit territory, rising like an impenetrable fortress along the north-eastern border of Iraq.

Bryar Gabar, PJAK commander (Photo: Jenny Cuffe)
Commander Gabar denies getting western support for his group

The Party of Free Life of Kurdistan's (P-Jak) press officer, a Turk called Roj with an Australian passport, said he could not guarantee me an interview with the commander but he would take me to the camp if I was prepared for an uncomfortable journey.

The P-Jak is a sister organisation to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

While the US wants the Iraqi government to comply with Turkey's demands and drive PKK fighters from the Kandil mountains, where they have been launching attacks on Turkish military targets, the P-Jak continues to operate against Iran from the Iraqi side of the border, and the Iranian government alleges it does so with American financial support.

East of Raniya, I followed his jeep for over an hour up a tortuous track strewn with boulders and so steep that at times it seemed safer to get out and walk.

'Military successes'

The base camp was a further trek by foot across a high valley, past a cemetery with graves of Kurdish peshmerga killed in action.

Our aim is to radically democratise the Iranian government and liberate nations in Iran, including the Kurdish nation
Bryar Gabar
P-Jak commander

Roj pointed to mountain slopes blackened by fire during Iran's bombardment in August, when hundreds of Iraqi villagers lost crops and livestock and were forced to evacuate their homes.

At a small stone building beside a spring, a woman fighter from Syria brought tea and told me she had been recruited at school after learning about the atrocities suffered by Kurds.

As the sun began to slide behind the mountain peaks, the commander, Bryar Gabar, arrived from the main camp four hours walk away, dressed in camouflage and carrying a Kalashnikov.

He listed recent military successes against Iranian forces, claiming to have shot down a helicopter and destroyed 15 army vehicles, but saying that seven of his fighters had been killed and one injured.

But he said five days of shelling by Iran's air force had left his forces untouched.

Shared ideology

Although Mr Gabar baulked at the term "sister organisation", he agreed that the PKK and P-Jak work closely and share the same ideology and strategic thinking.

Iraq map
The US however labels PKK a terrorist organisation, but does not include P-Jak in this category.

According to local villagers, whose peace is shattered by the presence of P-Jak, there is no distinction between the group fighting Iran and the one fighting Turkey.

Agha Pishteri, a friend of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, describes them as two sides of one coin, with the same aims and objectives. He says they act without the approval of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The Iranian government says it has documents proving that the US and Israel fund P-Jak and Iraqi Kurds say fighters use weapons and equipment manufactured in both countries.

Even in Washington political circles there is widespread speculation about funding.

Foreign backing

Earlier this year, Congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote to President George Bush: "It's hard to believe that P-Jak is operating successfully from Iraq without US knowledge, support and co-ordination."

We asked the US government if its agencies were providing support to Iranian Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq. We were told that the state department is opposed to the violent activities of P-Jak even though it does not list it as a terrorist organisation.

P-Jak itself is tight-lipped about the outcome of a visit by representatives to Washington.

Peering through the spectacles which make him appear more scholarly than warlike, Mr Gabar denied that the organisation had accepted financial support or weapons.

"The Americans' aim is to change the regime in Iran but ours is to radically democratise the Iranian government and liberate nations in Iran, including the Kurdish nation."

Back in Irbil, I repeated the commander's denial to Ahmed Chawsheen, a university academic who is a former peshmerga and keeps a close eye on the movement.

"We got help from many a quarter but always denied it," he said. "How can you have a national liberation struggle without the backing of a foreign power in the 21st Century? It's just impossible."

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