Turkey increases war on Kurds in Northern Iraq

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Turkey increases war on Kurds in Northern Iraq


Turkish airstrikes in Northern Iraq are not new, but the recent air and ground assault is very new, writes John Lubbuck.

At the end of June 2020, the Turkish military started a ground and air assault into the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq. After Operation Claw-Eagle, an air assault, a few days later came Operation Claw-Tiger. Turkey said this was after there were more and more attempts to attack Turkish military bases in the region.

Turkey’s Communications Ministry says that Turkey has 37 military bases on the border with or inside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We think they created twelve of these bases after the Turkish assault on 15 June, and it seems that Turkey is trying to increase its ‘security corridor’ along its border by moving up to 50 kilometres inside Iraq.

Turkey has long seen the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization. It has been fighting in Turkey since the late 1970s. It has camps in the Qandil mountains region on the border between Iran and Iraq. The mountains give cover from attack and allow the PKK to work with the Iranian Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK).

It seems that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps worked with Turkey on its assault and shelled the border area between Iraq and Iran in the middle of June, and Turkish drones helped. The assault came less than a week after a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Turkish airstrikes in Northern Iraq are not new, but the recent air and ground assault is very new. The number of civilian casualties during the recent assaults are higher than usual, with four civilians killed near Shiladze. In January 2019, six civilians were killed by Turkish bombs in Shiladze, with two killed when angry civilians attacked the local Turkish military base. They were protesting at the presence of both the PKK and Turkish forces.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said very little. A KRG spokesperson called on Turkey and the PKK to respect the KRG’s sovereignty and leave the area. But the KRG government knows that it can do very little to persuade Turkey or the PKK to give up their long war. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Iraqi Kurdish security forces arrested a photojournalist connected to a pro-PKK media site.

Reports from other areas of the KRG show civilians wounded. Newroz Sinjari is a Kurdish journalist. He told me that airstrikes targeted Sinjar, a mountain region where Yazidis have been slowly returning after ISIS ethnically cleansed and massacred them in 2014-15. This airstrike near Makhmour refugee camp is almost 200 kilometres from the Turkish border. People do not say that the PKK is in Sinjar. But Sinjari says that an affiliated local group started there with help from the PKK.

The Assyrian community of Northern Iraq stopped the return of Yazidis to Sinjar and the Turkish bombing has displaced them. The Assyrian village of Sharanish was hit during bombing on 14 June. It destroyed a meeting hall and a water and electricity system. Writer Jil Swani shared a video of his brother playing with his children in Kani Masi, a tourist area, when an airstrike hit nearby - https://twitter.com/thejilswani/status/1276197449015623682

Local residents say that the airstrike targeted a car with PKK members. It killed two and wounded six. Reports say that Turkey bombed the car with PKK members as it was entering the tourist area of Kani Masi where there were civilians. Newroz Sinjari told me that Kurds often complained that Turkey’s bombing of PKK targets also tries to increase tension between local Kurds and the PKK and asked why Turkey chose to bomb an area with many civilians.

Turkey continued its bombing in the KRG by targeting the towns of Behdinan, Batufe and Derkare on 2 July and Deraluk and Shiladze districts on 3 July.

Turkey often bombs areas in the Kurdistan Region, but the new assault is more intense than before. It also terrorizes the local population.

Turkey now has military in Syria’s Afrin province and along the northern border of Syria, and in Northern Iraq. It seems that Turkey is trying to divide Kurdish political groups. Iraq’s Kurdish president Barham Salih demanded that Turkey stop moving into Iraq, and the central government sent border guards to five places near the border town of Zakho.

The influence of the PKK and its groups in Iraq has grown in recent years. Local Kurds are angry that KRG allows Turkish military bases in its territory. And it’s surprising that Turkish military could encourage support for the PKK in Iraq.

Turkey’s long-term aim seems clear: to stop any Kurdish group becoming too powerful and to stop an independent Kurdistan. With military now in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, Turkey may be taking on too much, and its government is hoping that this will not have diplomatic, security or economic consequences.



(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)