Arab League says Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq ‘cause for concern’

(Releads with Arab League statement, updates with police intervention, comments)

The Arab League condemned on Monday Turkey’s Sunday airstrikes on several areas of northern Iraq as part of a pattern that had become "a cause for concern." 

“The strikes represent an attack on Iraqi sovereignty and are taking place without coordination with the government in Baghdad,” the National quoted the pan-Arab organisation’s chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit as saying in a statement on Monday.

Turkey’s air operation in northern Iraq on Sunday targeted the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for Kurdish political autonomy in Turkey for four decades.

The attack began hours before public protests in Turkey led by the country’s main pro-Kurdish political party, which were due to start on Monday. The authorities were seeking to prevent people from gathering by issuing bans on all demonstrations via local governors' offices.

Turkish warplanes launched the air strikes, involving F-16 aircraft, on military positions of the PKK in the Makhmour and Sinjar regions of Iraq, the Defence Ministry said late on Sunday.

“The strikes represent an attack on Iraqi sovereignty and are taking place without coordination with the government in Baghdad,” the pan-Arab organisation’s chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement on Monday.

Moreover, the strikes reflected Turkey's “underestimation of international law and its relations with its neighbours,” Abould Gheit said, adding that the majority of Arab countries “disapproved’’ of Turkey’s military presence.

Last week, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) announced that it would be holding the marches between June 15 and June 20 to protest the stripping of the parliamentary immunities of HDP deputies Leyla Güven and Musa Farisoğulları, along with that of a member of the main opposition party, earlier this month.

The prominent politicians were arrested on espionage and terror charges. Güven and Enis Berberoğlu, who is a parliamentary deputy for the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), have since been released pending trial.

The marches were set to start from the northwestern province of Edirne, where many HDP politicians including former co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş are imprisoned, and the southeastern province of Hakkari, an HDP stronghold.

Although the arrests have served as a catalyst for the protests, the HDP said that the party would be demonstrating against countless injustices against Kurdish politicians and civil society, including the sacking of several HDP mayors on terrorism charges following last year’s local elections.

The governors of 10 provinces, the majority of which are located on the route of the HDP protests, have issued a province-wide ban on all demonstrations, citing possible threats to public order and security, and measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Police prevented protestors from gathering in front of the HDP’s offices in the southeastern town of Hakkari by blocking all entry to the street. Several HDP deputies were protesting the restrictions and the party's co-chair Mithat Sancar said preventing people's constitutional rights was a pro-coup mindset.

“As we walk for democracy, we also walk for freedom and peace. We walk for a democratic solution to the Kurdish question. It cannot be solved by air strikes, military operations and the detention of our deputies,” he said.

Meanwhile, a group of protesters including HDP members, co-chair Pervin Buldan and party officials were targeted by the police in Istanbul’s Silivri district, where a significant number of HDP members are imprisoned, as they prepared to march.

The police fired tear gas and rubber bullets onto the group, and detained at least nine HDP members, Mezopotamya agency reported.

“This march will continue until peace, freedom and democracy come to this country,” Buldan said.

“This is not how many of us there are. We are millions,” Buldan said. “We do not march only for (HDP members). This march is also for Enis Berberoğlu, also for Osman Kavala.”

In Edirne, protesters were met with police water cannons. HDP deputy Musa Piroğlu, who has a partial disability, placed his wheelchair between the police and protesters to prevent a confrontation, however, the group was eventually attacked.

“The hindrance of HDP’s march and the police intervention have restricted constitutional rights,” CHP deputy Özgür Özel said in a tweet. “These incidents give further credence to the perception of a police state, and harm democracy and the rule of law.”

In the eastern Van province, along the march’s route, the police surrounded the HDP’s offices. Party members were not allowed to enter or leave the building, Mezopotamya reported, citing police sources.

The group gathered in Hakkari set out to the nearby Van province at 14:00 local time (GMT+3), following the morning’s confrontation with police.