The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Friday that its staff had visited areas subject to Iranian and Turkish attacks in August. Iraqi residents and officials told HRW that many of the targeted areas were purely civilian and were not being used by the armed groups.
“Evidence suggests that the regular Iranian bombardments may be an attempt to force Iraqi civilians out of some areas near the Iranian border,” HRW said.
“Year after year, civilians in northern Iraq have suffered from these cross-border attacks, but the situation right now is dire,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said in the statement. “Iran and Turkey should do all they can to protect civilians and their property from harm, no matter what the reason for their attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan,” Stork said.
Since 1984, Turkey has been fighting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which uses northern Iraq as a base for hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets. Along the Iranian border, members of the Iranian Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), an offshoot of the PKK, have battled Iran for years. Both groups are seeking autonomy in their countries.
This summer Iran sporadically shelled PJAK bases deep inside Iraqi Kurdish territory and Turkey has, in recent days, carried out a series of airstrikes.
On Monday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said they had killed an estimated 145 to 160 PKK members and injured at least 100 in 21 sorties they has conducted in the past three days on suspected PKK targets.
Earlier in August, the military said air strikes on suspected PKK targets in northern Iraq on Aug. 17-22 had killed an estimated 90 to 100 terrorists and warned that it would press ahead with offensives against the terrorist group both inside Turkey and across the border.
“The evidence suggests that Turkey and Iran are not doing what they need to do to make sure their attacks have a minimum impact on civilians, and in the case of Iran, it is at least quite possibly deliberately targeting civilians,” Stork said. “Regardless of their reasons for carrying out attacks, they need to respect international humanitarian law,” he added.
On Aug. 26, the Turkish Foreign Ministry rebuffed Iraqi claims of civilian casualties resulting from Turkish airstrikes in the Kandil Mountains to eliminate PKK members.
At the time, diplomatic sources denied claims by Iraqi officials stating that Turkish air assaults, which were carried out unilaterally by Turkey in response to heightened terrorist activities along the border, had not resulted in any civilian casualties. The same sources highlighted the possibility that the reports could be “completely fabricated” by the outlawed PKK to cast a shadow over the Turkish operations.
Taraf, a Turkish daily, on Friday claimed that Iran had been preparing to launch a land operation against PJAK bases in the Kandil Mountains as early as Sunday. The daily, citing anonymous sources, said Iran had already gotten consent from the Iraqi Kurdish administration to launch such operations inside its territory.