Images circulating on social media showing Turkish soldiers in Kurdish villages to the north of Erbil have sparked a wave of public anger in the Kurdish region. Politicians and others have accused the Kurdish Democratic Party of cooperating with the Turkish Army.
Local sources in the area north east of Erbil reported that Turkish soldiers and officers had arrived at Barmiza in the Bradost area. They had reportedly met the elder of the village and families, while moving their vehicles and tanks into the village, a scene that has occurred more than once during the last few months.
The Turkish forces’ advances in Kurdistan are part of their operations against the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Since the beginning of the year, Turkish forces have been based in Barmiza, home to 300 families. Turkish forces constantly move in and out of the village as they are establishing a military camp two kilometres away, with military hardware coming in by helicopter and soldiers by transport planes.
13 MPs in the Kurdistan parliament have signed an appeal requesting an urgent parliamentary session to discuss Ankara’s policy of expanding its authority in the region, and to end Turkey’s military and intelligence presence in Kurdistan.
Salar Mahmoud, an MP in the Kurdish parliament, said in a phone interview with 7Dnews, “We have repeatedly urged the regional and federal government to expel Turkish military forces from Iraq. Their presence violates the sovereignty of Iraq and threatens the security and stability of Kurdistan”.
Mahmoud added, “There is no response so far either from the regional government or the federal government. Meanwhile, Turkey is increasingly expanding control in Kurdistan through military and intelligence bases to such an extent that Turkish soldiers enter villages fully armed as if they own the land or it falls under their authority”.
Mahmoud warned of consequences of “Turkish incursions of more than 25 kilometres into Kurdistan through official border posts without any response from the governments in Baghdad or Erbil”. He describes the government’s lack of response of being “shameful”.
Turkish forces presence in Iraq dates back to Iraq’s former regime
The Turkish presence in Kurdistan dates back to 1994, based on a security treaty between the Iraqi and Turkish governments at the time, which allowed Turkish forces to conduct airstrikes and ground operations against the PKK across the borders. Current Iraqi officials say this agreement was verbal and there is no official documentation of it.
Since 1997 there have been Turkish soldiers at Bamerni military base in the Dahuk governate in Kurdistan, in addition to three small military bases near Amidya, Kanimasi, and Zakho city near the Turkish border.
According to Kurdish and Turkish security sources, there are now more than 18 military and intelligence bases in the region. The military presence is not limited to areas under Kurdish regional authority. Turkish forces entered Bashiqa north of Mosul in 2015 after Iraqi forces were defeated by Isis in mid 2014. Turkey claimed their forces in Bashiqa were there to train the Kurdish Peshmerga but Iraq considered the presence of those forces on its territory a major violation of its sovereignty by Turkey.
On December 2015 Iraq officially submitted a complaint to the UN Security Council protesting at the presence of Turkish forces near Mosul. President Erdogan of Turkey said those forces had been there for a long time in line with an old agreement and would not therefore be withdrawn from Iraq.
Earlier this year, Turkey threatened to carry out military operations in Iraq and to enter Sinjar.
Turkey announces military presence and operations in Iraq
While the governments in Baghdad and Erbil remained silent, the Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu confirmed that Turkish forces had entered Kurdistan. He said it was just a matter of time before they attacked the Qandil Mountains, the stronghold of the PKK.
Soylu said, “we will attack the Qandil mountain and bring them down to earth”.
The Qandil mountains are located on the Iraqi-Turkish border, rugged terrain that extends between Erbil and Dahuk, and ends in the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian triangle.
Hundreds of families were displaced as a result of Turkish military operations in those areas. Dozens of civilians were killed in Turkish airstrikes and locals have lost their houses and livestock in aerial bombardments.
Kurdish security denies the media access to areas of operations
The authorities in Erbil, mainly the Kurdish Democratic Party led by Masoud Barzani, have allegedly established agreements with Turkey and allowed the Turkish army to move in the areas under their control.
The authorities in Erbil have banned the media from accessing areas where the Turkish forces are present.
Two days ago, the Asayish forces (Kurdish security organization) prevented a team from the Kurdish Nalia Media Corporation (NRT) from broadcasting about the presence of Turkish forces in Barmiza. “Asayish forces prevented the NRT team from entering the area for media coverage about the arrival of Turkish forces in Iraq”, said an NRT correspondent on June 1st.
The Asayish forces had reportedly also prevented the Kurdish broadcasters Payam, Speda, and KNN, and the newspaper Xendan from accessing the area.