CPT in the Kurdish
North

After living for 4 years in Baghdad among people who bore
the impact of the US invasion and the chaos that ensued, the Iraq team has now
become neighbors with the Kurds, the very people who, indeed, greeted the
occupation forces with flowers in 2003. Now, some years later, the brutal
cyclone of violence in Iraq is leaving the Kurds in yet another turbulent
situation, at the hands of those who they called “liberators”.

Brief historical context

The Kurds have a long history of oppression and uprising.
They’ve historically been one of the most marginalized ethnic groups in the
region. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, lines were drawn through the
Kurdish area dividing its population of 40 million between Iraq, Syria, Iran
and Turkey. Kurdish identity is suppressed in these countries to this day.
However, for the moment in Iraq, the Kurds have significant representation in
parliament, one of four seats in the presidency, and the right to their
language.

In Iraq, the Baath regime in the 1980’s responded to Kurdish
uprisings with the genocidal Anfal campaign in which nearly 200,000 Kurds were
slaughtered and 5,000 of their villages wiped out. Saddam Hussein also forcibly
changed the demographic of Iraqi Kurdish cities like Kirkuk, Makhmour, and
Khanikeen, displacing many. There was a Kurdish uprising during the 1991 Gulf
War and this was brutally suppressed by Saddam. Then the US and UK forces
imposed a “no-fly” zone on the Kurdish north in order to protect the Kurds. The
north still lived under economic sanctions imposed by Saddam while the rest of
Iraq was suffering under the UN-imposed sanctions on the rest of Iraq. In the
2003 invasion of Iraq, when Turkey would not allow the US to launch its
invasion from its territory, the Iraqi Kurds offered the way in, actually
forming the front line.

Current political dynamics

Today, due to the fear of losing control of the oil-rich
city of Kirkuk (now that the majority population is again Kurdish), it seems to
Kurds that the central Iraqi government wishes to tighten its grip on the
semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government area (KRG). The policy of the US is
to support a strong central government. Turkey, Iran and Syria all fear that a
growing Kurdish autonomy in Iraq will inspire their own countries’ Kurdish
populations (20-25 million in Turkey alone). Article 140 of the new Iraqi
constitution states that people displaced under the Baath regime should be
helped to return to their places of origin and a census should be taken,
followed by a referendum to determine to which governorate a given city should
belong. Such a referendum, which was supposed to take place by December 31st,
2007, would clearly induct Kirkuk and other “disputed areas” into the KRG,
thereby strengthening this semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Yet the Iraqi
parliament approved legislation that, following the January 2009 provincial
elections, divided power in the provincial council and leadership posts as
follows: 32% to Kurds, 32% to Arabs, 32% to Turkmen and 4% to Christians, even
though 70% of the city is now Kurdish.[1] In
addition, approximately 100,000 Kurds were disenfranchised during the
provincial election on other “disputed areas” (80,000 in Makhmour, 16,000 in
Khanikeen, and 5,000 in Tuz. CPTers served as election observers.) Tension is
building around this issue and Kirkuk has become one of the most dangerous
cities in Iraq due to ethnically/religiously-motivated violence.

Kurds are also fearful because of developments in the
northern city of Mosul. Mosul is now considered THE most dangerous city in Iraq
with an average of one car bomb per day and 10 incidents of violence per day,
mostly against the US and Iraqi armies. Al Qaeda is reorganizing in Mosul and
Fallujah under the name “Islamic State of Iraq”. There are former Baath Party
members operating in Mosul who support Islamic State of Iraq. The Baathist
al-Hadba list won 19 out of 37 seats in the provincial election and proceeded
to distribute all governmental posts to its own members. 12 seats went to the Kurdish
list. Al-Hadba has also requested that Baghdad send the Iraqi army into Mosul
to replace the Kurdish military (peshmerga) which claims responsibility for
security in the KRG and the Kurdish part of Mosul and other cities in the
“disputed areas.”

A hidden war

Iraqi Kurdistan is surrounded on
all sides by hostility. It is divided in four by crosshairs, at the center of
which is the Northern Iraqi border where a hidden war continues in the
mountains. Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) from Turkey and their Iranian
associate, Party for Free Life (PJAK), both on the US and EU terrorist list and
in armed conflict with their respective governments, use Iraq’s border as a
haven for their operations. This war has raged for over two decades, killing nearly
40,000, displacing over a million Kurdish civilians in Southeast Turkey[2]
and thousands more inside Iraq.[3] In
late 2007 Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan met in Washington with President Bush
and an agreement was made to collaborate in renewed attempts to eliminate the
PKK presence in Iraq.[4]
The military incursions would be based on US military intelligence. Iran’s
cross-border shelling, which has been intermittent since 1996, picked up
intensity in early 2008 in alleged coordination with Turkey’s attacks. Shelling
typically follows sightings of Turkish surveillance planes over Iraq. 

Although political agreements have been made between Turkey
and Iraq to limit media attention, the impact these incursions are having on
civilian populations can be seen.  CPTers
have traveled along the entire northern border interviewing internally
displaced persons (IDPs) and exploring possibilities for a project to accompany
people who are returning to villages from which they fled. The team has kept
regular contact with the United Nations and local Kurdish NGOs that have
assisted these IDPs. In some areas they’ve been able to visit the remains of
Muslim and Christian villages destroyed by the Turkish bombing and talk to
villagers who still live there or come and go to care for crops or animals
under the threat of further random attacks. They interviewed a 27-year old
woman who lost her leg, families of persons who were killed in these bombings
by Turkish military, and people whose family were taken from their villages and
allegedly tortured by Turkish soldiers. Testimonies of villagers and government
officials have confirmed the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as
homes, schools, mosques, churches, and hospitals. Turkish and (and also
Iranian) bombing has killed an extensive amount of sheep and cows and scorched
villagers’ agriculture. The Turkish military has bombed bridges and planted
land mines, cutting people off from harvesting their crops. Bombing continues
in areas still inhabited and is audible from some areas where IDPs now live.
CPTers have also seen 12 of the numerous Turkish military bases positioned well
within Iraqi territory. According to villagers and Iraqi Kurdish security
officials, Turkish military at these bases watch their movements, set up checkpoints,
strike during the time of planting and harvesting or anytime they observe
displaced villagers returning to their homes, and burn agricultural fields for
the purpose of “visibility.” Locals experience the Turkish presence as an
oppressive occupation.

Based on what CPT and other human rights organizations such
as Kurdish Human Rights Project and Human Rights Watch have witnessed and
documented, the Turkish and Iranian militaries could be held responsible for
violating rules of armed conflict laid out in Protocol 1 Additional to the
Geneva Conventions of August 1949, relating to the Protection of Victims of
International armed conflicts
.[5]
(articles 35, 48, 51, 52, 54, 57)

Turkey also fails to comply with its obligations as a member of the
Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. It
would then follow that the United States is complicit in violations of
international law by a foreign military in a country it occupies. Of course,
Turkey’s incursions are not taking place without  the consent of the Iraqi central government.
The US, Turkey and Iraq have formed a joint commission to solve “the PKK
problem.” The commission meets in Erbil, the capital city of the KRG, which
apparently advocates little on behalf of its displaced citizenry.  Iraq has, however, as of May 2009, officially
condemned Iran’s incursions and attacks on the KRG.

The PKK are also responsible for crimes against humanity.
They have carried out acts of terrorism against civilians. Refugees CPT has
interviewed at Makhmour camp, who fled Turkey because of their relation to
alleged PKK members, own that they once purported faith in armed revolution,
but that now they, and the PKK leadership, are calling for a peaceful solution
to the conflict. It is worth mentioning that, as of June 2009, the PKK
continues attempts to maintain a unilateral ceasefire and is calling on the
Turkish government to engage in dialogue. That is something that all
peace-advocating organizations should encourage and uphold because there is no
military solution to this conflict.    

The CPT Iraq Team’s
current work

The CPT team is currently focusing on the IDPs of the Pshdar
district in the Sulamaniya governorate. The first steps in the process of
helping these people return to their villages will not be physical. They will
be in form of recording their stories, the condition of their lives as IDPs and
documenting violations of their human rights. As CPT provides independent
verification for the international community, UN, and governments as to the
impact of these incursions on civilians, something which at this point is
almost completely lacking, we are building relationships and working to spread
awareness. Although local villagers still do return to their homes even now
despite bombs and mortar shells, they do not wish to return with their families
to stay unless they have some guarantee they are not walking into a bloodbath.
At the same time they express clearly that their lives as IDPs are not
sustainable and they await any opportunity to return home.

On a larger scale, CPT has observed a dramatic change in the Kurdish population
from unapologetic support for the U.S. military presence in Iraq to anger at
the way in which the United States has treated one of its most loyal allies in
the Middle East. Kurdish people, who have experienced the Anfal campaign under
the Saddam Hussein regime, who were bombed in their villages, are now being
bombed in their villages by Turkey and Iran with U.S. support in the form of
permission and military intelligence. 
CPT, therefore, joins its voice with its Kurdish partners to call for
dialogue between all parties involved. We call for a peaceful solution. There
is no military solution.  


[1]

[2]  U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), 2001, World Refugee
Survey 2001: Turkey

[3] Yildiz, Kerim, The Kurds
in Iraq, Revised Edition
, Pluto, London, 2007, p81.

[4] Kurdish
Human rights Project, A Fact-finding Mission in Kuristan, Iraq: Gaps in the
Human Rights Infrastructure, July 2008, p.78

NPR.org,
November 5, 2007

[5]
https://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/93.htm