Turkey must face a reckoning for its crimes in Iraqi Kurdistan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pursuing a neo-Ottoman agenda to expand Turkey’s borders, attacking Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurds in northern Syria under the guise of fighting terrorism. Turkey’s actions are also intended to undermine U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks between Kurdish factions. Erdoğan opposes Kurdish unity and has vowed to strangle Kurdish peace and progress lest they challenge Turkey’s hegemonic interests. 

The United States should strongly condemn Turkey’s aggression, including the recent incursion by Turkish forces into Iraqi Kurdistan. Erdoğan should be held responsible for violating Iraqi sovereignty, as well as war crimes by Turkey and its jihadist proxies. It is, however unlikely that U.S. President Donald Trump will criticise one of his favourite dictators.

The Kurds must document Turkey’s war crimes, making the case for accountability to a future U.S. administration. Columbia University’s research team has collected data on incursions by Turkey in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2020. The following is a partial account of Turkey’s crimes:

  • January 7: A Turkish air strike kills two people in the Gara region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • February 29: Six people are killed during air strikes in the Metina and Gara regions.
  • March 9: Halide Tari, a leader of the women's branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), killed in Qandil.
  • March 13: War planes strike the Bradost region of Sidekan, bombing Khalifa and Geli Reş villages.
  • March 26: The Turkish Defence Ministry reports killing eight PKK members in the Haftanin region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • April 15: Galya Bekir, a top leader of the PKK, assassinated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT).
  • April 17: A Turkish drone strike against the Makhmour refugee camp east of Mosul kills two female refugees.
  • May 4: War planes bomb Sinine village in the Bradost region, destroying the road leading to the village.
  • May 26. A cross-border action by the TSK in Duhok province wounds a 13-year-old girl.
  • May 27: Turkish war planes target a vehicle, killing five people in Mawat town, north of Suleimani province.
  • May 30: Turkish airstrikes kill 60-year-old Jalal Nuradin and his 32-year-old son Ahmed, and wounding one person in the village of Hetuta on the outskirts of Amedi district.
  • June 7: Turkish bombardments cause huge fires in mountainous areas in northern parts of the Kurdistan Region, near the villages of Siran and Meragarsh in Erbil's Soran district.
  • June 15: Turkish war planes attack several locations in the Shingal district, and other locations close to the Makhmour refugee camp, which is hosting Kurdish refugees from Turkey. Eighteen Turkish planes targeted Shingal, Makhmour, Gwer, and Erbil, reaching the Sharqat district nearly 200 km from the Turkish border.
  • June 19: Four civilians killed in a Turkish airstrike on Sheladize district in Duhok province.
  • June 21: Turkish air strikes in Duhok province land 1 km away from Christian community of Bersv and three Yezidi camps, causing extensive property damage.
  • June 25: Air strikes in the Bradost sub-district in northern Erbil province hit communities near Mount Zararan, causing widespread fires.
  • June 25: Air strikes target Sidakan areas in Erbil’s ​​Soran district and Kuna-Massi, a picnic area in Sharbazher district in Sulaimani province, killing and wounding family members on holiday.

Turkey justifies it aggression as counter-terrorism against the PKK. On May 25, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar boasted that 1,458 PKK militants had been killed in cross-border operations since the beginning of 2020.

In reality, civilians bear the brunt of Turkey’s aggression. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and at least 115 border villages have been evacuated.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned Turkey’s attacks. Its chair Gayle Manchin has called on Turkey “to immediately cease its brutal air strikes in Sinjar, Iraq and to withdraw any ground troops - who represent a dangerous escalation of violence in an already-fragile area.”

Rep. Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, concurred on Twitter: “I strongly condemn the Turkish air strikes & ground operations near Kurdish and Yazidi civilian areas...This type of reckless endangerment of civilian lives is unacceptable, especially for a NATO ally.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by parroting Turkish propaganda, calling on Turkey, Iraq and the Kurds to work together in the fight against terrorism.

The Iraqi government ignored Pompeo, protesting Turkey’s violations of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, warned in a Twitter post:

“The recent Turkish military incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan in the Zakho region is a very serious geopolitical development. The intensity of the attack is alarming. Calls by Turkish leaders to revive historical claims of Mosul province are even far more disturbing.”

Kurds are not the only victims. Many Christian villages in Zakho and Yazidis in Sinjar fled Turkey’s attacks. Women and children have been Turkey’s primary victims in Makhmour.

Turkey should face a reckoning for its crimes. Fighting so-called terrorism does not entitle Turkey to slaughter civilians.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.