Turkey bombs refugees in Iraq amid coronavirus pandemic

Turkey claims it is striking “terrorists,” but locals are concerned airstrikes come amid increased instability, ISIS resurgence and target vulnerably minorities

TURKISH MILITARY vehicles are seen on the Turkish-Syrian border before a joint Turkish-Russian patrol in northeast Syria, near the Turkish town of Kiziltepe. (photo credit: REUTERS)
TURKISH MILITARY vehicles are seen on the Turkish-Syrian border before a joint Turkish-Russian patrol in northeast Syria, near the Turkish town of Kiziltepe.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish drones and warplanes flew into Iraq airspace and bombed near a refugee camp near Makhmour on Wednesday, killing and wounding several people. Iraq’s top security cell for media reporting that its air defense monitored a Turkish violation of Iraqi airspace and that at least two women “residents of the camp were victims of the bombardment.” Iraqi media reported in the evening of April 15 that the death toll at the refugee camp had risen to three.
It is not the first time Turkey has carried out airstrikes against refugees and in areas where minorities, such as Yazidis, live in northern Iraq. Ankara claims it is striking “terrorists” but has never presented any evidence that its airstrikes have eliminated anyone involved in recent terror attacks against Turkey.
The day was a somber one in Iraq where people are in lockdowns due to the coronavirus. Iraq’s strained health care system has made it difficult for the country to confront the virus threat. In areas in northern Iraq people are recovering from the ISIS war. In Makhmour refugee camp which is near the border line between the Kurdistan autonomous regional government and Iraqi Security forces the refugees and internally displaced people face daily hardships and difficulty transiting checkpoints to find work. Despite the fact that the camp is contained within security checkpoints and the area is already threatened by a resurgent ISIS, Turkey carries out airstrikes with impunity.
The day before the airstrikes the new Prime Minister designate of Iraq Mustafa al-Kadhimi posted about the “deep sadness” of the anniversary of the “Anfal genocide against the Kurds. This dark events reminds us that a government that commits crimes against its people loses legitimacy. We must heal the wounds of the past and build a brighter future.” The next day Turkish airstrikes took away the future of several people in Iraq.
Reports at Rudaw noted that the “Turkish airstrikes have killed three civilians in Makhmour and destroyed a Kurdistan Workers Party shelter in Rawanduz in two separate attacks on Wednesday.” One airstrike occurred within 200 meters of a Peshmerga unit in Rawanduz. The Peshmerga are the armed forces of the Kurdistan government. The Turkish attack destroyed the small shelter but also destroyed two telecom towers used by Korek in northern Iraq. Turkey claimed that “four PKK terrorists were neutralized in the attack.”
For members of the Yazidi minority Wednesday was the new year in Iraq. The minority was targeted for genocide by ISIS and is still struggling more than five years after thousands of Yazidis were sold into slavery and massacred in northern Iraq. Turkey has used Yazidi events in the past to target Yazidis, also alleging they are linked to “terrorists” and the PKK. In August 2018 a Turkish airstrike killed a Yazidi man returning from a commemoration event for victims of the genocide. Ankara claimed it had targeted Mam Zeki Shingali, a PKK member. The far-left PKK and affiliated groups helped to save thousands of Yazidis from ISIS in August 2014 and continued to fight ISIS for years.
Several Yazidi women and children have alleged they were trafficked by ISIS to Turkey. Families of senior ISIS members have moved via to Turkey to Idlib. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have kidnapped and ethnically cleansed Yazidis in Afrin after the January 2018 invasion and in October 2019 when Turkey against invaded and occupied parts of northern Syria hundreds of more Yazidis had to flee the Turkish invasion and human rights abuses by Turkish-backed Syrian militants. Turkey carried out more airstikes in Yazidi areas in November 2019 and January 2020.
It appears Turkey uses the airstrikes against vulnerable minorities in Iraq and unstable areas as a way to claim it is “fighting terror” abroad when in fact it is only carrying out airstrikes in areas where it can because there is no air defense in northern Iraq and the government cannot prevent Turkey’s incursions. Turkey has been frustrated in its invasions of northern Syria as Russia has kept its air force from flying freely. Turkey may be using Iraq to test its drones because it has a ceasefire in Syria with the Syrian regime and its drones increasingly face threats in Libya where Turkey is involved in another military campaign.
Turkey carried out other airstrikes in Makhmour in November 2019. Photos showed that one of the errant missiles killed a fox. The US-led Coalition, in cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga has carried out airstrikes and raids against ISIS cells near Makhmour. In early March two US forces were killed fighting ISIS in the area. Turkey does not carry out airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq, only against Kurds and Yazidis. Turkish media showed stock images of F-16s in reports of it “neutralizing PKK terrorists,” but Turkish media reported the “neutralizing” took place in Qandil, not Makhmour, leading to questions about why Turkey also carried out strikes on the refugee camp area.
Turkey, a NATO member, has never recently or publicly investigated or apologized for raids in which its airforce has killed civilians. Other NATO members often investigate their airstrikes and provide accountability for airstrikes that kill civilians. International organizations, including the UN and Amnesty International have called upon Turkey to stop groups it supports from committing crimes in Syria. So far they have not commented on Turkey’s airstrikes in Iraq.
Iraq has complained to Turkey in the past about its attacks. It summoned Turkey’s ambassador in December 2018 over airstrikes and in January 2019 after Turkish troops in Iraq shot a demonstrator. Iraq is in the middle of a political crises and has a difficult time rallying any international support to protest Turkey’s attacks. The coronavirus crises leaves Iraq vulnerable and the US-led Coalition is repositioning troops and withdrawing from bases, meaning Iraq will have even more struggles ahead, in addition to dealing with Turkey’s attacks.