Villagers displaces as Turkey’s military incursion intensifies

08-07-2024 04:38

Peregraf- Duhok

As warplanes flew overhead, the sound of artillery and heavy fighting got closer to Dargale village. Salih Kamil’s escape was difficult and dangerous. Much of the surrounding area is a battlefield between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“I have never heard fighting and the sound of weapons like this in my life,” Kamil told Peregraf. Only four families now remain the village, which is located in Duhok governorate’s Kani Masi sub-district. The others have already fled the fighting.

The Turkish military is moving progressively deeper into the territory of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. It is increasing troop levelsand is bringing in heavy weapons, according to locals and monitors.

“On June 27, two military planes arrived. We were surrounded and could not escape. We called others to come to our aid,” said Kamil, who serves as the head of Dargale village. Eventually a vehicle arrived from Kani Masi center and he and his family were evacuated.

Over the past ten days, three villages in the district have been completely evacuated. Turkish soldiers have set up temporary checkpoints, while local Kurdish security forces operate their own points of control. Village residents are stopped and asked for their reasons of travel and personal information.

In many ways, this military activity remains unaddressed in public, with little said by KRG officials.

“The Turkish army has set up a checkpoint between Belizanivillage and Kani Blava in Kani Masi. I went there myself and the soldiers asked me where I came from and where I was going,” Adib Mustafa, the head of Miska village, told Peregraf.

Miska is considered the oldest village in the Barwari Bala region. It dates back hundreds of years and, until recently, was home to eleven Christian families and one Muslim family. They have all now been displaced.

“Our village was evacuated due to the fighting. A number of houses were burned down in our village. Even the church was damaged. There are 50 to 60 orchards and fields of apples, grapes, tomatoes and other crops. Each was on an area of ​​at least four acres and they have been completely destroyed,” Mustafasaid.

Turkish soldiers with tanks are operating in the area, supported by soldiers on foot. They stop local residents and ask for information that will help them fight the PKK. Every day, more photos and videos are posted online of Turkish soldiers inside the Kurdistan Region.

Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a conflict monitoring NGO, said in a statement that Turkey has deployed an estimated 300 heavy vehicles, which have been observed in Kista, Aradna, Chelke, Babire, Uram, and Sarro villages.

In contrast, Babakr Zebari, a KRG military adviser, downplayed the threat of Turkey’s operations and ruled out the prospect of a major war.

“There has been and continues to be a war between Turkey and the PKK on the border. I do not believe there will be a major conflict because the PKK cannot confront the Turkish army and the Turkish army cannot go deeper into the mountains,” Zebaritold Peregraf.

He denied that Turkey has increased its troop presence.

“Turkey is still in place and it threatens to come forward and liquidate the PKK. But in practice they are still in their old locations. There have been no additional forces and the same as before. They may have increased the bases and that is all,” he added.

Iraq has a 362-kilometer border with Turkey, much of which is difficult terrain in the mountains. Across the centuries, it has proved difficult for any power to exert real control over these areas.

Brigadier Mohammed Suaidi, commander of the federal Ministry of Interior’s border guard forces, said that officials are working with Turkey in two ways: First, they are coordinating militarily and, second, constructing checkpoints. Some of the latter are on the border between Erbil governorate and Turkey, according to the semi-official Iraqi News Agency.

Suaidi noted that the Turkish military is operating within Iraqi territory to varying depths, depending on the area.

Turkey controls territory inside Iraq across more than 86 percent their shared border. In some places, this is only to a depth of five kilometers, but can extend to 40 kilometers in others, according to CPT.

According to the CPT, the Turkish army carried out more than 800 bombings and attacks on targets in the Kurdistan Region between the start of the year and the end of May. Eight civilians were killed as a result.

“Turkey wants to secure its borders, like how secured its borders with Syria and Iran with continuous monitoring. If Turkey doesthe same thing with its Iraq border, the the problem will be solved,” Zebari said.

But neither Turkey nor PKK wants to solve the problem and the PKK has also left its work in Turkey and entered the Kurdistan Region,” he added.

The PKK has left its work in Turkey and entered the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) territory.

The fighting has also taken an ecological toll. Over the past ten days, an estimated 10,000 trees and hundreds of village gardens have burned in Blava, Goharze, Sargale, and Sgere.

“From June 20 to July 3, the bombing…increased significantly compared to previous months,” said Karvan Goharze, a resident of his eponymous village.

“There are days when the area around Goharze was bombed more than 50 times. What is more dangerous is that the bombings have become random, so the ability of people to move around is limited,” he added.

Peregraf contacted a number of senior administrative and security officials in the region, but they declined to comment for various reasons.

The operations followed visits earlier this year by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Baghdad and Erbil. Turkey’s operations against the PKK were a major topic on the agenda.

According to analysts, the ultimate aim of these operations is to take control of Gara Mountain and limit the ability of PKK fighters to move from east to west. Taking the mountain range would also prevent the group from using its caves and gorges as a training base.

There are 94 villages in Gara’s foothills, so civilians are at risk because of the operations. Out of the original total, only 39 are currently inhabited.

“Alone I had 1,000 apple trees with hundreds of walnut trees and other crops. They all burned down.” Kamil said. “I have no hope of returning again.”