Members of the few remaining Christian communities of northern Iraq following attempted genocide by the Islamic State told the Kurdish outlet Rudaw this weekend that they are “terrified” as Turkey continues to bomb alleged Kurdish terrorist targets near them.
The government of Turkey announced “Operation Claw-Eagle,” a bombing campaign, on Monday last week, then followed up with the “Operation Claw-Tiger” ground invasion on Wednesday. Both, Turkish officials say, are designed to eradicate the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist, U.S.-designated terrorist organization that has waged a struggle to create a Kurdish state, including Turkish territory, for decades.
The PKK established itself in northern Iraq in the aftermath of the 2014 invasion by the Islamic State, which sought to exterminate the region’s native Christian and Yazidi populations. The Yazidis of Sinjar, in particular, credit the PKK for fighting ISIS on their behalf and helping create a Yazidi fighting militia to deter future invasion. Turkish officials have identified that militia, the Shingal [Sinjar] Protection Units (YBS), as a fellow target in its assault on Iraq.
Sinjar, the Yazidi homeland, remains largely in a state of ruin years after the end of the ISIS genocide. Islamic State jihadis flooded the remains of Sinjar city with booby traps and mines and destroyed key infrastructure like sewage systems and electric grids before departing. Yazidis had begun slowly returning home this year after months of repairs, but civilians must now face the possibility of Turkish bombs destroying what was left.
While Turkey has not named the minority Christians as targets, nor do Christian civilians have any known close ties to the PKK, some nonetheless told Rudaw they are suffering the consequences of “Operation Claw-Eagle.”
“Last night at 10:55 [pm], a huge bang reverberated through our house. When I rushed outdoors, I noticed flames billowing just two kilometres from our house,” a Christian teacher in Duhok, part of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), identified as Faiza Rahim told Rudaw.
“No one dared to come out until this morning. As soon as the sun rose, I went to the front courtyard and saw that my car’s windows had been completely smashed by a giant piece of shrapnel that had fallen onto it,” Rahim said.
Rahim described locals as “all terrified by the bombing, including children, women, men, and elderly.” Rudaw spoke to other locals who said the bombings reminded them of the Islamic State invasion.
Rudaw said that local authorities had identified five civilians killed by airstrikes. Turkish authorities claim they have killed a small number of PKK fighters, an assertion locals dispute, asserting those killed were not militants in any group.
In Shiladze, one of the Duhok towns targeted, locals have reportedly taken to the streets to protest. Rudaw’s reporters shared video from the town’s assemblies last week, which the outlet claimed attracted hundreds of protesters.
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Kurdistan 24, a news network that operates out of KRG territory, cited sources on the ground on Sunday as saying that “Turkey’s bombardments are landing increasingly closer to civilian-populated areas, saying that the latest air raid struck ‘one kilometer away’ from a community inhabited by around 300 Christian families, named ‘Bersv.'” According to the network, sources say that 90 Duhok villages have been completely evacuated, fearing the bombs.
The KRG, which has traditionally had a tense, at best, relationship with the PKK, issued a statement on Friday demanding both Turkey and the PKK withdraw from its territories.
“These attacks have tragically killed civilians, and caused significant damage to villages in the areas concerned,” KRG spokesman Jotyar Adil reportedly stated. “We call on the Republic of Turkey to respect the sovereignty of our homeland.”
Adil added that the PKK should “vacate” northern Iraqi territories to give Turkey less of a reason to invade.
“Kurdistan Region’s territory should not be used to launch attacks on any country,” Adil emphasized.
The government of Iraq in Baghdad, run by Shia Arabs with ties to the Iranian Islamic regime, has also condemned Turkey, summoning the Turkish ambassador to the capital on two occasions over the Claw operations. According to Rudaw, Baghdad also sent a delegation to Duhok on Monday to observe the damage.
America, allied with Turkey through NATO, has condemned the invasion, as well, through the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
“USCIRF calls on Turkey to immediately cease its brutal airstrikes in Sinjar, Iraq and to withdraw any ground troops—who represent a dangerous escalation of violence in an already-fragile area,” USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin said in a statement published Sunday. “These actions are particularly threatening to hundreds of traumatized Yazidi families attempting to return to Sinjar and to other civilians in northern Iraq—none of whom deserve to be placed in harm’s way by a NATO ally.”
Turkish government news sources celebrated the invasion on Sunday, claiming that it had resulted in large ammunition hauls after takeovers of PKK strongholds. The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Turkish soldiers seized “an RPG-7 rocket launcher, its ammunition, 13 propelling cartridges, three hand grenades, 200 anti-aircraft ammunition, an improvised explosive device (IED) and materials used in making of IEDs” thanks to “Operation Claw-Tiger.”