Dozens of families have been leaving villages near the Iraq-Turkey border since 21 October, joining the hundreds who have already fled the area as tension rises between Turkish-Kurdish rebels and the Turkish army, local officials say.
A cross-border ambush on 21 October by Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq killed at least 17 Turkish soldiers, ratcheting up pressure on the Turkish government to launch a military offensive into Iraq.
“It will be a disaster. Families living near the border are usually [poor] and are being forced to flee their homes, carrying a single bag and leaving behind a history and the comfort of a family to an unknown destiny,” Kalif Dirar, a senior official in the Kurdistan regional government, said.
“Families got scared with the killing of Turkish soldiers, and to worsen the situation, eight others have been kidnapped by the Kurdish rebels, causing panic among locals who fear a strong Turkish military response,” Dirar added. “We have recorded more than 3,000 individuals travelling from villages near the border to areas near Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk.”
According to Dirar, the number of displaced people coming from the border area has reached nearly 5,000.
|Families living near the border are usually [poor] and are being forced to flee their homes, carrying a single bag and leaving behind a history and the comfort of a family to an unknown destiny.|
Demonstrations in the capital
About 600 Iraqis demonstrated in the capital, Baghdad, on 23 October against the Kurdish guerrilla attacks and asked the central government to take urgent action to maintain peace in the only relatively safe area in Iraq.
Sergevaz Lafaw, a Kurdish rebel commander of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), told IRIN that residents should not fear attacks against their homes and that PKK fighters did not have any interest in attacking them.
“The offensive is against Turkish troops and we will do whatever is needed to keep our residents safe,” Lafaq said.
The PKK, formed in the 1970s, has been fighting since 1984 for the creation of an independent Kurdistan state in southeastern Turkey. Since the 1990s, however, it has called for more autonomy for Kurds in Turkey instead of an independent Kurdistan.
More than 30,000 people have died in the conflict since 1984.
Photo: Google Maps
|A map of Iraq and the surrounding region highlighting areas where Kurdish PKK rebels have attacked Turkish troops and cities to which Iraqis have fled as a result|
Rastgo Muhammad Barsaz, a spokesman for the NGO, Kurdistan Campaign to Help Victims of War, urged both sides in the conflict to stop before hundreds of families become displaced, injured or killed in the region.
“There is still time for a safe and intelligent agreement. We have to prevent more destruction and suffering for Iraqi people, especially in an area which has been considered safe and calm,” Barsaz added.
Barsaz said donations of tents, food parcels, medicines and heaters were needed. “Local NGOs should be supplied with aid, especially food parcels and tents. We don’t know the final result of this disagreement but we are sure that only locals are going to suffer as a result and we have to prevent humanitarian chaos,” he added.
A convoy of dozens of Turkish military vehicles loaded with soldiers and heavy weapons rumbled toward the southeastern town of Sirnak, closer to the Iraq border, on 22 October.
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