SULAIMANIYAH, 21 June 2007 (IRIN)
- Hundreds of Iraqi Kurds have been forced to flee their homes after up to 30,000 Turkish soldiers massed on the Iraqi-Turkish border and launched attacks against Kurdish fighters, Iraqi border police say.
Local aid agencies said Kurdish fighters had prevented them from entering the villages, which were being targeted.
"The bombardments have forced hundreds to abandon their homes and leave for safer areas. Some houses were looted by Kurdish fighters, according to witnesses in the area," said Rastgo Muhammad Barsaz, spokesman for the non-governmental organisation Kurdistan Campaign to Help Victims of War.
"Dashati Takhe village, on the border near Zakho, is one of the most affected areas. We have been informed of civilian causalities but we don't know how many, as we are being denied access to the area. But by telephone, civilians have told us they are short of food and water," Barsaz said.
Fear of Turkish invasion
In response to recent attacks, including a bombing in Ankara in May that killed eight people, Turkey expanded its force along the border, deploying additional artillery and dozens of tanks. Iraqi border police say Turkey has 20,000-30,000 soldiers along its border with Iraq, and has set up a special security zone that restricts movement in the area.
Iraqi Kurdish villagers living near the Turkish border fear a Turkish invasion similar to that of 1997, when large numbers of Turkish forces crossed the border to fight the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which wants an independent Kurdistan carved out of northern Iraq as well as parts of Iran and Turkey.
Turkey says the PKK is using mountain hideouts and friendly villages in northern Iraq to train and re-supply its fighters who operate mainly in Turkey.
"The last time [Turkey invaded] hundreds of innocent people died and we hope that won't happen again. This time, we had to flee our house and are taking refuge with some relatives near Zakho, but we cannot stay there long. We really don't know what to do as we've left everything behind. We're scared that our home will be destroyed, as has happened to some of our neighbours," said Ezdin Destan, 47, a resident of Dashati village, near the Turkish border.
"In some neighbouring villages, Kurdish rebels have entered homes and forced families to leave so they can use their homes as bases from which to launch attacks and for training... One of my relatives was killed last week because he refused to leave his house," Destan said.
The Kurdish authorities see the Turkish attacks as an offensive against the Kurdish people.
"Turkey has a problem with the existence of Kurds," Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, told reporters on 13 June. "We have always advocated good neighbourliness on the basis of mutual interests and non-intervention. Nonetheless, we do not accept violations and threats."
Local aid agencies have called on security forces on both sides to allow safe passage for the delivery of supplies to villagers, and have called for more assistance to be given to displaced families in Zakho, Arbil and Dohuk.
"We call on the authorities to prevent tension and more suffering for innocent civilians, and we hope urgent diplomatic negotiations can avoid further terror," Barsaz said.
On 19 June the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a press conference in Washington, that the US and Iraqi governments were both opposed to Kurdish rebels using Iraqi territory for "terrorist" actions against neighbouring Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference last week that his country should focus on the large number of militants operating in Turkey before seeking them out in Iraq, but that the problem should be tackled from both sides.