Perspective: From Iraqi mountains, Kurds train for battle with Iran
QANDIL MOUNTAIN RANGE, Iraq: Deep in the mountains of eastern Iraq, a cluster of mud huts and the chatter of machine gun fire reveal another piece of the jigsaw puzzle called Kurdistan.
Here, recruits are training to fight Iran, one of the four countries that rule the fractured Kurdish people. And although they belong to an organization officially outlawed as terrorist by Washington, they appear to be operating unhindered either by Iraqi-Kurdish units or the limited U.S. force in Kurdish areas.
A boulder-studded road spirals up through sun-soaked mountains to a pale yellow building that flies the flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), condemned as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and its NATO ally, Turkey.
A giant face of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK founder who is serving a life sentence in Turkey, is painted on the mountainside. Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) farther on lies the Qandil range, which runs like a snow-dusted spine along Iraq's northern border with both Turkey and Iran.
In the camp, lugging heavy machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles, are men and women of the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PEJAK, an offshoot set up by the PKK in 2004 to fight for Kurdish autonomy in Iran.
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