Turkish military incursion preventing Iraqi Christians from returning to villages - report

Turkey’s Claw Tiger operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in northern Iraq has caused the evacuation of several Christian villages in the Dohuk province, making it impossible for the villagers to return to their homes, pro-Kurdish outlet Rudaw reported on Tuesday.

One of the villages, Şeraniş, has been targeted in several bombings during Turkey’s operation, and has been evacuated, it said.

Villager Emir Hasan told Rudaw that bombs targeted both the surroundings and the inner parts of the village, damaging both houses and orchards.

Ten out of the 25 Christian villages in Dohuk, most of them at the Turkish border, had been evacuated before due to clashes, according to Rudaw. Six more villages have since been cleared of residents.

Some 2,000 Christian families are affected by the operation, and 22 churches have had to close their doors to worshippers.

The cross-border ground assault Operation Claw Tiger started on June 17, and has extended beyond Turkey’s usual campaign grounds against the PKK, according to Reuters.

The PKK is an armed group that has been at war for Kurdish self rule in Turkey for over three decades.

Turkish forces have advanced up to 40 km into Iraqi territory, and established more than 30 military bases.

Turkey says it aims to cut off supply lines between Iraq and Syria for the PKK, and clear the border area of PKK elements.

More than 7,900 members of Turkish security forces, 5,500 civilians, and 22,000 PKK members have been killed since the conflict began in 1984 between Turkey and the PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union as well as Turkey itself.

Turkey conducts frequent operations into Iraqi territory against the group’s bases in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, and may be preparing for a large-scale operation against the main base in the Qandil mountain, based on comments by an unnamed Turkish official to Reuters.

Last week, Iraqi President Barham Salih called on Turkey to stop violating Iraq’s sovereignty, following the death of Iraqi border guards and at least six civilians in what marked the first time members of the regular Iraqi forces were killed since Turkey launched a cross-border ground and air operation in mid-June.

Turkey does not have to live with terrorism, or get used to it, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told Anadolu last week. “Our only purpose is to fight terrorism and terrorists. We have no fight against any ethnic group or sect,” the minister said, refusing any allegations of harm to civilians or historic sites.