Officials: Dozens of villages in northern Iraq abandoned due to Turkish airstrikes

Published April 11th, 2016 - 04:00 GMT
Iraqi Kurdish forces watch explosions in the distance while holding a position. (AFP/File)
Iraqi Kurdish forces watch explosions in the distance while holding a position. (AFP/File)

Dozens of villages have been abandoned and hundreds of families displaced as Turkey goes ahead with a deadly aerial campaign in northern Iraq, officials and locals say.

Officials from Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region said on Sunday that of the 76 villages of the Barwari sub-district of Dohuk Governorate, which lies along the Turkish border, nearly half have been worst hit by the ongoing Turkish aerial raids.

According to Ismail Mustafa Rashid, the governor of the Amedi district, which includes Barwari, at least 35 villages have either been abandoned or evacuated in recent months.

Some other local officials put the number of the villages affected at 25.

Fawzi Ali, a local farmer, told the Associated Press that Turkish warplanes continue the non-stop bombing of the region. “The aircraft keep coming here continuously. They bomb the mountain; they bomb the edge of the villages.”

“There is nothing here. Nothing except the mountains,” Ali said, adding, “People cannot live here.”

The Turkish airstrikes are declared to be targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group.

Serbes Hussein, a village official, said people had started abandoning their villages in summer 2015, when Ankara started the bombing campaign. He said seasonal labor in his village was seriously affected from a lack of work caused by the evacuations.

“It is an area very rich in agriculture, mostly famous for its apples, and people were producing huge amounts to sell them in the fruit market of Dohuk,” Hussein said.

Turkey’s aerial campaign inside Iraqi territory has repeatedly drawn fire from Baghdad, which has denounced Ankara for violating the country’s sovereignty.

Ankara has been engaged in a large-scale military campaign against the PKK in Iraq and in its southern border region in the recent past.

The operations began in the wake of a deadly July 20, 2015 bombing in the southern Turkish town of Suruc, an ethnically Kurdish town located close to border with Syria. Over 30 people died in the Suruc attack, which the Turkish government blamed on Daesh.

After the bombing in Suruc, the PKK militants, who accuse the government in Ankara of supporting Daesh, engaged in a series of attacks against Turkish police and security forces, in turn prompting the Turkish military operations.

The PKK has been fighting for an autonomous Kurdish region inside Turkey since the 1980s.

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