Turkish riot police secure the area during a demonstration in solidarity with jailed pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Leyla Guven, in Diyarbakir, Turkey January 12, 2019.
(photo credit: SERTAC KAYAR / REUTERS)
Hundreds of protesters entered a Turkish military base in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region on Saturday, setting fire to the facilities and vehicles, after Turkish airstrikes killed civilians. One protester was reported killed in Shiladze in the Duhok province, according to a local health official.
Protesters began with a march led by women in black with signs condemning airstrikes that killed at least six civilians this week.
Baxtiyar Goran reported that families of the six victims of airstrikes had led the protest.
Two men were reported killed on January 23 while tending bees. One of them had served as a Kurdish Peshmerga fighting ISIS
. Turkey has at least 11 military bases and outposts in northern Iraq which Ankara asserts are necessary to fight the Kurdistan Workers Party
(PKK) which has bases in the mountains. However airstrikes and battles with the PKK have harmed civilians.
Protesters sacked the Turkish base which is near Diraluk, where the civilians were reported killed earlier this week. The mountainous area near the Turkish border is also home to the historic hill town of Amedi. In the spring, this area of Kurdistan fills up with tourists coming to enjoy picnics near the streams and see the mountains. However the airstrikes angered locals who gathered in the hundreds Saturday in an unusual protest against the Turkish presence.
Turkey has had forces in northern Iraq since the 1990s and periodically has launched major campaigns against the PKK. However, mostly this presence does not impact on civilian life. In the last year, as the ISIS war wound down and Turkey has sought to strike at the PKK beyond its borders, military activity has increased in northern Iraq. This began with airstrikes in April 2017 that targeted the PKK in Mount Sinjar, where ISIS committed a genocide against Yazidis. Airstrikes also killed Kurdish Peshmerga and destroyed a graveyard. In August, another airstrike killed a Yazidi PKK member who was returning from a memorial. In December, an airstrike hit an IDP camp near Makhmour. Each airstrike shows that Ankara is serious in its desire to “eradicate” the PKK, as it has vowed to do since the 2015 ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK broke down. The US put bounties on the heads of three PKK leaders last year.
Turkey has also vowed to launch an operation in northern Syria to attack the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish force
that Ankara accuses of being linked to the PKK but which has been fighting ISIS alongside the US.
In northern Iraq, Turkey has enjoyed relatively amicable relations with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, but Baghdad has been increasingly critical of the airstrikes. Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador after airstrikes in mid-December. Kurdish commentators see the recent protests as a sign that locals are fed up with the fighting and want to send a message that civilians cannot continue to be killed with impunity. Yerevan Saeed writes that villagers who suffered for decades “for the first time protesters in Duhok province against Turkish occupying army.”
Analyst Abdulla Hawez noted that while the Turkish presence in Duhok dates back to 1997, there are new bases closer to Erbil. Fazel Hawramy, a journalist tweeted that military vehicles have now arrived from Turkey while 600 people took part in the protests. Diliman Abdulkader, who follows Kurdish politics, says it is important to see how the KRG will respond to this incident and to see if they crack down on protesters.
With tensions rising in northern Syria between Turkey and the YPG in Syria as the US withdraws, the protests in northern Iraq form part of a larger series of tensions between Turkey and Kurds in Syria and Iraq.