Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Human Rights Watch: Attacks by Iran and Turkey on Kurdish insurgents in N-Iraq target also civilians

Inspecting the damage after a Turkish bombardment.

Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm on 2 September over attacks by Turkey and Iran on Kurdish rebels operating from North Iraq. Iran is targeting militants of the Party for a Free Life of Kurdistan PJAK, Turkey attacks the KurdistanWorkers Party PKK, which is associated with the PJAK.
Human Rights Watch asserted  that apart from the fighters of these groups who were killed, Iran en Turkey did not spare the civilian population of the border areas and may even have had in  mind to depopulate these areas. The organisation asserted that Iran and Turkey’s cross-border attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan have killed at least 10 civilians and displaced hundreds since mid-July 2011. And as HRW put it, 'some of the attacks may have been carried out without sufficient attempts to ensure minimal impact on civilians', .

The attacks are aimed along the northern and eastern borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. When Human Rights Watch visited those areas in August, Iraqi residents and officials said that many of the targeted areas are purely civilian and are not being used by the armed groups. Evidence suggests that the regular Iranian bombardments may be an attempt to force Iraqi civilians out of some areas near the Iranian border, according to HRW.

Iran started its cross-border attacks in northern Iraq in mid-June. Since mid-July, Iran’s operations against PJAK inside or near villages close to the Iranian border have led to the displacement of hundreds of families, caused the deaths of at least three villagers, and wounded an unknown number of people, according to international humanitarian aid organizations, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials, and media reports. Farmers from the border regions told Human Rights Watch in early August that the shelling had damaged their homes and that they saw Iranian soldiers cross the border into Iraq and kill farmers’ livestock. The attacks on civilians and their property that they described were similar to attacks documented by Human Rights Watch in June 2010.

Turkey started its operations on August 18.  On August 21, according to Iraqi officials, Turkish warplanes bombed a vehicle carrying civilians. The attack killed seven members of the same extended family according to relatives of those killed, local officials, and media workers. Turkey denied its planes were responsible.

The family group, which included four children, was driving on a highly travelled main roadway in a white 2011 Nissan pickup truck from the village of Bole to Rania to visit relatives. Shamal Hassan told Human Rights Watch on August 29 that the attack instantly killed his wife, Rezan, and his daughters, Solin, two months old, and Sonya, 18 months old. The attack also killed his wife’s parents and two other children.
An emotional Hassan told Human Rights Watch, “The attack was so destructive that we couldn’t recognize their bodies. I want the international community to hold Turkey accountable. They ruined my life.”
 While the Turkish military said that it has killed more than 145 suspected PKK militants with artillery fire and airstrikes in northern Iraq since August 17, it has denied that its warplanes killed the family, saying only that news footage of the destroyed vehicle was not consistent with damage caused by Turkish aerial bombardment. However, Turkish officials have stated that Turkish warplanes were bombing multiple military targets, such as anti-aircraft guns and ammunitions caches, in the area at the time.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said that cross-borders attacks in northern Iraq is a recurrent phenomenon in northern Iraq. “Year after year, civilians in northern Iraq have suffered from these cross-border attacks,' Stork said, 'but the situation right now is dire. Iran and Turkey should do all they can to protect civilians and their property from harm, no matter what the reason for their attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan.'

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