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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

IRAQ: Turkish offensive would lead to humanitarian crisis, ICRC warns

DAHOUK, 18 October 2007 (IRIN) - A humanitarian crisis will accompany any large-scale Turkish military operations aimed at pursuing Turkish-Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on 17 October.

"Any military conflict in the region will bring about a humanitarian crisis as civilians will be killed or displaced due to shelling and troop incursions," said northern Iraq ICRC spokesperson Flamerz Mohammed.

"So far the Turkish artillery shells… over the past few days only concentrated on abandoned mountains and did not reach border villages, but we are observing and assessing the situation on the borders," Mohammed said.

"All our warehouses in the region are filled with food, medicines and aid materials for emergencies and if the situation deteriorates then we will rely on our warehouses in neighbouring countries," he said.

On 17 October the Turkish parliament overwhelmingly approved a possible cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) allegedly operating in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.

Hours before the vote, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart to say that his government was determined to halt the "terrorist activities" of the PKK on Iraqi territory, his office said.

Kurdish rebels from the PKK, which has Marxist-Leninist roots, have been fighting since 1984 for the autonomy of Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast. According to the Turkish government, the conflict, which reached a peak in the mid-1990s, has claimed tens of thousands of lives; thousands of villages have been affected and hundreds of thousands of Kurds have fled to cities in other parts of Turkey.

Villagers fearful

The ICRC said that although there had so far been no major displacements among Kurdish villagers along the border, families were worried.

"The villagers are worried and are in a panic as they have no idea what will happen in the coming days," the ICRC’s Mohammed said.

About two months ago, shepherd Mustafa Haji Ahmed lost six of his cattle in mountain pastures near the border when artillery shells landed nearby: "Since then I haven’t been up to the mountains and our cattle are deprived of these rich pastures, and that has affected our life a lot," said Ahmed, a 51-year-old father-of-five.

At the time, Ahmed was among about 200 people in Nazdori village, about 25km from the Turkish border, who were forced out of their houses to safer areas by the shelling.

"Now, too, we are under threat, but this time things could be tougher as winter is coming,” he added.

What makes another villager, Tahseen Barwari, more worried is that military operations could prevent her children from attending school: "I'm afraid my children will not be able to continue their classes as about 20 artillery shells hit our village last time and [we] were forced to leave everything behind," Tahseen, a 47-year-old mother-of-seven, said.

Fears of violence rekindled

The Turkish threats have rekindled fears of violence among those Iraqi Arab families who had fled other violence-affected parts of Iraq to seek shelter in the Kurdistan region.

One of these is Khalid Nisaif al-Jibouri, a 39-year-old father-of-three who fled his house in Baghdad months ago to stay in a two-room apartment in Kurdistan.

"Relentless violence in Baghdad forced us to leave for this peaceful area, but the news we are getting these days makes us fearful again of something we had almost forgotten - insecurity," said al-Jibouri who lives in Dahouk in the extreme north of Iraq.

On 16 October the head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed deep concern at the prospect of any Turkish military incursion, warning it could exacerbate the refugee situation.

"It [northern Iraq] is an area also where you will find Iraqis from the south and from central Iraq that went there to seek security, and of course we strongly hope that this relative security in Kurdistan will not be affected," Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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