Aid agencies working in Iraq’s northern provinces have put in place emergency supply programmes in anticipation of a threatened invasion by Turkish troops to clear Turkish-Kurdish rebels operating in the area.
“We are storing supplies to the maximum and we urge international NGOs to send us food parcels and medicines to tackle a possible huge displacement in the coming days,” said Rastgo Muhammad Barsaz, a spokesman for the NGO, Kurdistan Campaign to Help Victims of War. “Some families have already left villages and towns near the Kurdish border with Turkey and have been displaced for the past week.
“Following our emergency plan, medicines are being sent to local hospitals to keep them sufficiently supplied to offer medical assistance to possible injured people, including mobile units that will be ready to travel to areas where there is no medical support nearby,” Barsaz added.
At least 12 Turkish soldiers were killed and 17 wounded on 21 October in an ambush by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), near the Iraq border, according to the Turkish government. The ambush has increased tension generated by a decision by Turkey's parliament on 17 October to authorise cross-border incursions into Iraq to hunt rebels in the area.
|We are storing supplies to the maximum and we urge international NGOs to send us food parcels and medicines to tackle a possible huge displacement in the coming days.|
The 17 October attack took place in southeastern Hakkari, a province near the town of Yuksekova.
The PKK, formed in 1970s has been fighting since 1984 for the creation of an independent Kurdistan state in south-eastern Turkey. Since the 1990s, however, it has called for more autonomy for the Kurds in Turkey instead of an independent Kurdistan.
According to Adar Mustafa, spokesman for Kurdish Aid Solidarity, a local NGO, most families living near the Iraqi border do not support the Kurdish militias and are scared of being attacked as their homes are in strategic military areas.
Displaced as winter approaches
“Those are the first families fleeing northern areas and every day we receive reports of more people travelling to cities like Sulaimaniyah, Erbil and Kirkuk, joining thousands of already displaced individuals in those cities,” Mustafa added. “The latest information we received this morning [21 October] says that more than 1,800 individuals living near the border have already left their homes carrying just a few foodstuffs and some clothes.
”Winter is coming in a couple of weeks and if there is a rebellion in the northern areas where the weather will be much colder, this can seriously affect the heath of thousands of displaced families,” he said.
Photo: Google Maps
|A map highlighting areas where Kurdish PKK rebels have attacked Turkish troops|
Mustafa said his organisation had followed the agreement reached with other local NGOs and stored tonnes of food parcels to be sent to northern areas. “With the killing of soldiers at the border by PKK militants, the invasion by Turkish forces of northern Iraq is believed to be much closer than expected and we have to be prepared.”
Kalif Dirar, a senior official in the Kurdistan regional government, said it had registered at least 2,500 people arriving in the northern provinces since 17 October and warned that if clashes intensify, more than 6,000 people were expected to arrive this week.
“Villagers in northern Iraq have been seriously affected in the past months. In July displacement in the area was reported and hundreds of families fled to secure areas in lower Iraq,” Dirar added. “Many went back but others preferred to leave their homes, expecting later clashes, as is happening now … to save their lives from a bullet.
100,000 existing displaced
“Of the families that fled their homes in villages near the border, at least 25 percent were children and are without education and proper medical treatment,” he noted. “They are going to be part of an already existing 100,000 displaced people, about 17,000 families, including Kurdish and Arab, in Kurdistan.”
|Of the families that fled their homes in villages near the border, at least 25 percent were children and are without education and proper medical treatment.|
On 19 October, the local Iraq Red Crescent office urged its headquarters in Baghdad to send enough supplies to be stored in preparation for the threatened offensive.
New arrivals from villages near the Iraq-Turkey border said the situation was tense and more families were leaving their homes, scared of possible attacks.
“I didn’t think twice and took my family with me to Erbil to save our lives. Many of my neighbours were packing to leave the village when I left and soon they are going to join the thousands of displaced families in Iraq,” said Cekdar Darav, from Kani Masi, about 40km northeast of the town of Dohuk, who is taking refuge in Erbil.
Turkish offensive would lead to humanitarian crisis, ICRC warns