Iraq: “Life is Hard”


by Peggy Gish

Unlike refugees who seek safety and security in other countries, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) flee to areas of refuge within their country’s borders.  

In August CPTers made several visits to the Zharawa IDP camp in northwestern Suleimaniya Governorate located just above a shallow river between the mountains near the Iranian border.  More than 120 families, totaling at least 600 people, fled their homes closer to the border after Turkish and Iranian forces repeatedly bombed their villages.

Sitting by a UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) tent, residents seemed eager to talk about their situation.

“Life is hard,” one woman sighed.  “We don’t have anything, and we cannot go back to our villages.  The water is dirty.  We cannot plant our crops or take care of our livestock.  There are no jobs.”  Others added to the dismal litany: “There is no privacy;” “There are snakes and scorpions;” “We just heard that Turkish aircraft bombed our village again yesterday.”

Then the children started sharing.  Seven-year-old Ghazan* pointed to images drawn on his paper.  “This is the bomb next to our house,” he said, “and this is me running away.”  Showing us her drawing, Zinaz* said, “This is the fire coming down from the bomb.  These are cars taking us away.”  Another child added, “We saw airplanes and bombs – lots of bombs.”

Even from the camp, the children say they can hear the bombing in the distance.  “When that happens we get so scared that we get sick,” one boy admitted soberly.  An older boy explained, “They think Kurdish rebel groups are there, but they are not in our village.  Maybe they just want to get rid of our villages.”

Later, residents told a visiting CPT delegation, “Ask your governments to make this stop so it is safe for us to return home.  We want the people of the world to know about our problems.”  They  filled two large banners with messages: “Bombing Hurts.  Please Stop!”  “We don’t want war;” “Stop the bombing;” “Long live Kurdistan;” “We want peace.”

With paint, villagers put hand prints and small drawings on the banners.  Several children proudly held up their hands for CPTers to see.  At one point an area security officer, sent there to observe what was happening, knelt down and drew his own picture of a village being bombed.

The next week, CPTers accompanied two leaders of the Zharawa IDP camp to meet with a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.  “The rebel groups living in the Qandil Mountains are not the targets of the bombing of our villages by Turkey or Iran and are usually not hurt by them.  We are the only losers,” one of the displaced villagers declared.  He went on to tell about the bombs that exploded next to his house and the difficulties of living in tents.  “When the fall rains and cold winter come, the valley will be filled with raging water and freezing weather.  Where will we go then?” he asked.

The U.S. representative listened attentively, looked at pictures of people in the camp, and took careful notes.  When CPTers reported hearing expressions of anger toward the U.S. government for allowing Turkey to fly over Iraqi airspace to bomb along the Iraq-Iran border and for helping them with intelligence information, the representative said that she had also heard such anger.  She agreed to consult with Kurdish officials about the IDP’s material needs and send a report of the meeting to the Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S.

Earlier that morning, CPTers had taken the concerns of the villagers to a Kurdish parliamentarian.  She agreed that people need to settle tensions through dialogue, not violence. “I wanted the change of Saddam Hussein’s regime,” she said, “but I was also against the U.S. war with Iraq.  Now I hope the U.S. will put diplomatic pressure on Turkey and Iran to stop the bombing of the border villages.”  After seeing photos of the children at the Zharawa IDP Camp she said, “We need to see these children, and not call them terrorists.”

* names changed

Action:

The U.S. provides intelligence reports to the Turkish Air Force about the movement of people in this remote region and opens Iraqi air space for Turkish bombers to enter the area.  Please urge your legislators to take action.  Tell them to stop allowing and assisting Turkey to bomb the Iraqi border.