Turkish military’s push into Iraqi territory risks deeper conflict

A Sararo villager shows the damage he says was caused by Turkish forces’ bombardment in Dohuk, Iraq, on Dec. 27, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 January 2023
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Turkish military’s push into Iraqi territory risks deeper conflict

  • Escalation risks further destabilizing a region where foreign powers have intervened with impunity

SARARO, Iraq: Looming over the deserted village of Sararo in northern Iraq, three Turkish military outposts break the skyline, part of an incursion that forced the residents to flee last year after days of shelling.

The outposts are just some of the dozens of new military bases Turkiye has established on Iraqi soil in the past two years as it steps up its decades-long offensive against Kurdish militants sheltered in the remote and rugged region.

“When Turkiye first came to the area, they set up small portable tents, but in the spring, they set up outposts with bricks and cement,” Sararo’s mayor Abdulrahman Hussein Rashid said in December during a visit to the village, where shell casings and shrapnel still litter the ground.

“They have drones and cameras operating 24/7. They know everything that’s going on,” he said, as drones buzzed overhead in the mountainous terrain 5 km from the frontier.

Turkiye’s advances across the increasingly depopulated border of Iraqi Kurdistan attract little global attention compared to its incursions into Syria or the battle against Daesh, but the escalation risks further destabilizing a region where foreign powers have intervened with impunity, analysts say.

Turkiye could become further embroiled if its new Iraqi bases come under sustained attack, while its growing presence may also embolden Iran to expand military action in Iraq against groups it accuses of fomenting unrest at home, Kurdish officials say.

The former secretary general for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces, Jabar Manda, said Turkiye had 29 outposts in Iraq until 2019 but the number has mushroomed as Ankara tries to stop the Kurdistan Workers’ Party launching attacks on its own territory.

“Year after year the outposts have been increasing after the escalation of battles between Turkish forces and the PKK,” he said, estimating the current number at 87, mostly in a strip of border territory about 150 km long and 30 km deep.

A Kurdish official, who declined to be named, also said Turkiye now had about 80 outposts in Iraq. Another Kurdish official said at least 50 had been built in the last two years and that Turkiye’s presence was becoming more permanent.

Asked to comment on its bases in Iraq, Turkiye’s Defense Ministry said its operations there were in line with article 51 of the UN Charter, which gives member states the right to self defense in the event of attacks.

“Our fight against terrorism in northern Iraq is carried out in coordination and close cooperation with the Iraqi authorities,” the ministry said in a statement, which did not address questions about the figures cited by Kurdish officials.

Turkiye’s presence in northern Iraq, which has long been outside the direct control of the Baghdad government, dates back to the 1990s when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein let Turkish forces advance 5 km into the country to fight the PKK.

Since then, Turkiye has built a significant presence, including one base at Bashiqa 80 km inside Iraq, where it says Turkish troops were part of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight Daesh. Turkiye said it worked to avoid civilian casualties through its coordination with Iraqi authorities.

A report published in August by a coalition of NGOs, End Cross-Border Bombing, said at least 98 civilians were killed between 2015 and 2021. The International Crisis Group, which gave a similar civilian death toll, said 1,180 PKK militants were killed between 2015 and 2023.

According to an official with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, the conflict has also emptied at least 800 villages since 2015, when a ceasefire between Turkiye and the PKK broke down, driving thousands of people from their homes.

Beyond the humanitarian impact, Turkiye’s incursion risks widening the conflict by giving carte blanche to regional rival Iran to step up intelligence operations inside Iraq and take its own military action, Kurdish officials say.

Tehran has already fired missiles at bases of Kurdish groups it accuses of involvement in protests against its restrictions on women, displacing hundreds of Iranian Kurds and killing some.

Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq also have a pretext to respond to Turkiye’s presence, analysts say, raising the prospect of escalation between Turkish troops and groups besides the PKK.

Hamdi Malik, a specialist on Iraqi Shiite militias at the Washington Institute, said pro-Iranian groups such as Liwa Ahrar Al-Iraq (Free People of Iraq Brigade) and Ahrar Sinjar (Free People of Sinjar) rebranded themselves last year as the resistance against the Turkish presence.

According to a Washington Institute report, attacks on Turkish military facilities in Iraq increased from an average of 1.5 strikes per month at the start of 2022 to seven in April. If the groups, which are deeply hostile to Washington, step up operations that would also undermine the influence of the United States and its 2,000 troops in Iraq, said Mustafa Gurbuz, a nonresident fellow at the Arab Center Washington.

“Turkiye is underestimating the strength of opposition and the fact that these facilities will become targets in the future and more so as hostilities increase,” said Sajad Jiyad, Baghdad-based analyst for The Century Foundation, a US think tank.

Northern Iraq’s fragmented politics mean that neither the federal government in Baghdad nor the KRG regional authority are strong enough to challenge Turkiye’s presence — or to meet Ankara’s goal of containing the PKK themselves.

The Baghdad government has complained about Ankara’s incursions but has little authority in the mainly Kurdish north, while the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party does not have the firepower to challenge the PKK, despite seeing it as a potent and populist rival.

The KDP has historically cooperated with Turkiye but has limited influence over a neighbor which wields far greater military and economic clout.

“We ask all foreign military groups — including the PKK — to not drag the Kurdistan Region into any kind of conflicts or tensions,” KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil said.

“The PKK are the main reason that pushed Turkiye to enter our territories in the Kurdistan Region. Therefore, we think the PKK should leave,” he said. “We are not a side in this long-standing conflict and we have no plans to be on any side.”

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said the conflict between Turkiye and the PKK was a matter of concern, but less pressing than the threat from Daesh.

Hariam Mahmoud, a leading figure in the Kurdistan Liberation Movement, a civilian opposition group in Iraq influenced by the ideas of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, said no matter how much Turkiye squeezes them they will continue to resist.

“In our opinion, this is an occupation and fighting resistance is a legitimate right,” said Mahmoud, who lives in Garmiyan district south of Sulaimaniya.

Civilians, meanwhile, continue to pay the price. Ramzan Ali, 72, was irrigating his field in Hirure a few km from Sararo in 2021, when he heard a huge blast. The next thing he remembers is being on the ground covered in blood.

He said a Turkish shell had crashed into his property — a regular occurrence when Turkish troops respond to PKK attacks with artillery.


Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 

Updated 18 July 2024
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Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 

  • UN Women’s representative in Occupied Palestinian Territories unprepared ‘for the total destruction and inhumanity that I saw’ during visit to enclave this week 
  • A million women and girls are bearing ‘the worst brunt of nine months of war,’ she says, and ‘there are no safe places to be a woman in Gaza’ 

NEW YORK CITY: Returning from a mission to the Gaza strip, an official from UN Women said that despite more 50 visits to the enclave in the six years since she took up her position, including one during the 2021 war, “nothing prepared me for the total destruction and inhumanity that I saw.” 

Speaking in Jerusalem on Thursday, Maryse Guimond, the agency’s representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territories said that what she witnessed exceeded her worst fears about the plight of women and girls living in Gaza, some of whom she has worked with for many years. 

“It was unbearable to witness the daily escalation of violence and destruction of a war on women, with no end in sight,” Guimond said, her voice choked by emotion. 

She said wars are never gender-neutral and that is “undoubtedly” the case in Gaza, where a million women and girls are bearing “the worst brunt of nine months of war.” 

Guimond added: “They are losing their lives. They are sick, hungry, exhausted, holding families together despite their constant fear and loss. Each woman I met has a story of loss.” 

UN Women said more than 10,000 Palestinian women have lost their lives in the war, which is now in its 10th month, more than 6,000 families have lost their mothers, and nearly a million women and girls have lost loved ones and “their life memories.” 

“Gaza is more than 2 million stories of loss,” said Guimond. “Women in Gaza are living in constant movement, constant fear, being constantly chased. 

“There are no safe places to be a woman in Gaza, where nine out of 10 people are displaced.” 

UN Women infographic

Almost a million women and girls have been displaced several times, forced to move to ever-smaller areas where they become targets of attacks and bombings, she added. 

“They move with no cash, with no possessions and with no clue how and where they’re going to live,” said Guimond. 

“Many women told me that they will not move again, as it does not make a difference for their safety or survival.” 

Gazans have endured 18 waves of displacements, with no guarantee of any safety for anyone, she added. 

When she arrived in the battered Strip on her latest visit, Guimond said she did not recognize it as the Gaza she once knew. 

“I entered the world of devastation and total deprivation; mosques, hospitals, shops, schools, universities have been destroyed,” she said. 

“Crowds of men, women and children trying to survive in makeshift tents and overcrowded shelters surrounded by rubble and total destruction, amid the continued sounds of fighting and drones.” 

She said she barely recognized women she had known before the war: “The last nine months are embedded on their faces, on their bodies.” 

UN Women estimates 557,000 Palestinian women are suffering from acute food insecurity. Guimond said that these women are “eating the last and the least” among their families, and “skipping meals and not eating healthy food for months and months.” 

She praised the women of Gaza for their “remarkable strength and humanity in their struggle to survive with hope and solidarity, despite the devastation. 

“I have met amazing women who are taking care of their families and their community in the face of starvation, of death and disease, of displacement.” 

She called on the international community to support the work of women-led organizations in Gaza, and ensure there are places for women at the table when decisions are being made. 

“The question is not what women need, the question should be what they don’t need,” said Guimond. “Women don’t want to die. They don’t want to bury their loved ones. They don’t want to be left alone to suffer.” 

She also echoed calls by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the opening of all land crossings to grant full access to the territory for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for all Israeli hostages to be released. 


Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon

Updated 18 July 2024
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Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon

  • Latest Israeli drone attack killed Mohammed Hamed Jabara, a leader in Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah
  • 466 dead, thousands of homes razed in more than 9 months of conflict; value of damage estimated at $1.7 billion
  • Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has warned that the group will target new Israeli settlements if Israel continues to ‘target civilians’ in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Israel’s assault on Lebanon extended beyond the southern border area to western Bekaa on Thursday, resulting in at least two deaths in separate attacks.

In the morning, an Israeli drone targeted an SUV on the road to the town of Ghazze in western Bekaa, resulting in the death of its driver.

The target was identified as Mohammed Hamed Jabara, a leader in Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah, or the Islamic Group. He hailed from the town of Qaraoun in western Bekaa.

He was an active militant in the party’s military wing, the Al-Fajr Forces, which is allied with Hezbollah in the confrontation with Israel.

According to a source from his hometown, Jabara had previously been pursued by Israel “due to his resistance activities and had faced multiple threats and assassination attempts, which only succeeded now.”

The Al-Fajr Forces described Jabara as “one of their leaders” in an obituary.

Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, also mourned Jabara as “one of their leaders.”

In another incident on Thursday morning, an Israeli drone targeted a vehicle on the road to Jbal El-Botm in the Tyre district in the south.

The driver tried to escape the drone but was pursued and killed by a missile.

He was identified as Hussein Ali Mhanna, a 40-year-old Hezbollah member from Jbal El-Botm.

In a third attack, an Israeli drone targeted a car between Hanniyeh and Zibqin, injuring a Hezbollah member and another passenger.

The Israeli army conducted a sweep with machine guns toward Wazzani and targeted Chihine with a guided missile.

Israeli airstrikes and artillery also hit Aita Al-Shaab, the hills extending between Taoumat Niha and the highlands of Ain Al-Tineh in western Bekaa, without any reported injuries.

The intense Israeli escalation followed Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s threat to “target more settlements if Israel continues targeting civilians.”

The Israeli response was “a message demonstrating the army’s capability to continue killings and its ability to monitor Hezbollah field leaders, and know their identities and type of missions,” said one political observer.

In a statement, the Islamic Group held Israel responsible for Jabara’s “cowardly assassination.”

The attack “will not deter us from performing our role and duty in defending our land and people in the south, nor from supporting our people in Palestine,” the party said.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks with hostile operations targeting military sites, including “newly installed espionage equipment” on a crane at the Hadab Yarin site.

Israeli jets broke the sound barrier over the south more than four times, causing panic and damage to homes, including the partial collapse a roof in the town of Kfar Tebnit. Residents escaped without injury.

The military escalation has led to increased casualties in southern Lebanon as Israel pursues an aggressive strategy against Hezbollah.

The number of civilian casualties exceeded 107 as of July 14, a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Total casualties amounted to 466, including Hezbollah-affiliated military personnel.

More than 98,000 people have been internally displaced in southern Lebanon after artillery reached within 12 km of the Blue Line.

Almost 98 percent of the displaced hail from the Bint Jbeil, Marjaayoun and Tyre districts, the OCHA report said.

Israeli airstrikes have also reached deep into the country, extending up to 100 km from the Blue Line.

The OCHA warned of severe damage to southern Lebanon’s water, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure, and roads.

Maintenance and repair workers have been injured or killed while trying to keep services running for the remaining residents, alongside medics and first responders.

“There has also been a noticeable increase in Israeli jets breaking the sound barrier over various Lebanese regions,” the report said, citing the South Council, which is responsible for assessing the damage.

Since Oct. 8 last year, about 3,000 housing units have been partially or entirely destroyed.

Additionally, 12,000 housing units have been severely damaged, and 20,000 units have sustained minor damage.

The report estimated the economic value of the damage at $1.7 billion.

The South Council reported that the agricultural sector lost 17 million sq. meters of land, mainly as a result of Israeli white phosphorus shelling, with effects that will last for years.

Farmers also cannot harvest crops from 12 million sq. meters of land, the council said.

The OCHA report said that at least 13 water infrastructure sites had been damaged due to cross-border hostilities, impacting supply for almost 200,000 people in the south and Nabatieh.

Water fee collection has fallen to almost zero in the southern and Nabatieh governorates, putting the South Lebanon Water Establishment in a challenging situation.

The agricultural sector has been heavily impacted. On July 8, more than 800 farm animals were killed in an Israeli attack on a farm in Jabal Tora, Jezzine.

Lebanon’s Agriculture Ministry condemned the attack and called on international intervention to “make those responsible pay and provide aid to farmers.”

According to the report, on July 11, UNIFIL expressed concern “about the high level of tension seen recently and the potential for miscalculations that could lead to a sudden and wider conflict.”

The OCHA said that 82 percent of the internally displaced live with host families, while 15 percent rent houses.

Another 2 percent have relocated to secondary residences. About 1 percent are housed across 16 shelters.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 19 percent of the displaced live in overcrowded conditions.

About 33 percent are children, while 34 percent are women and 33 percent men.
 


Amnesty urges ‘end to incommunicado detention of Gazans’

Updated 18 July 2024
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Amnesty urges ‘end to incommunicado detention of Gazans’

  • Amnesty called for the repeal of the Unlawful Combatants Law
  • The law “enables rampant torture”

JERUSALEM: Amnesty International has called on Israel to end the indefinite detention of Gaza Palestinians and what it called “rampant torture” in its prisons.
“Israeli authorities must end their indefinite incommunicado detention of Palestinians from the occupied Gaza Strip, without charge or trial ... (which is) in flagrant violation of international law,” the rights group
said in a statement.
Amnesty called for the repeal of the Unlawful Combatants Law, amended following the beginning of the Gaza war, which allows Israeli forces to hold people without charge or trial for months.
The law “enables rampant torture and, in some circumstances, institutionalizes enforced disappearance,” Amnesty said.
It said the law allows Israeli troops to arrest security suspects “for indefinitely renewable periods without having to produce evidence to substantiate the claims.”
Amnesty said it had documented 27 cases of Palestinians, including five women and a 14-year-old boy, who were detained “for up to four and a half months” without being able to contact their families.
All 27 told of how “they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment,” the organization said.
The detainees were seized across the Gaza Strip from shelters, homes, hospitals, and checkpoints.
Said Maarouf, a 57-year-old pediatrician detained for 45 days in the Sde Teiman camp in southern Israel, told Amnesty “that detention guards kept him blindfolded and handcuffed for the entire duration of his detention, and described being starved, repeatedly beaten, and forced to sit on his knees for long periods.”
Contacted by AFP this week about similar accusations made by the Palestinian Authority minister for prisoner affairs, the Israeli military said it “rejects outright allegations concerning systematic abuse of detainees in the ‘Sde Teiman’ detention facility, including allegations of sexually abusing
detainees.”
It said that Israel’s detention conditions were within international law.
Under the amended Unlawful Combatants Law, Israel can detain prisoners for 45 days without an administrative process, compared with 96 hours previously.
Prisoners can be held for 75 days without a court hearing, up from 14 days, which can be extended to 180 days.
All of the Palestinians quoted by Amnesty said that during their detention, “Israeli military, intelligence, and police forces subjected them to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The Israeli Prison Service told Israeli NGO Hamoked that as of July 1, there were 1,402 Palestinians detained under the law, excluding those held on an initial 45-day period without a formal order.
According to the Prisoners Club, a Palestinian watchdog, about 9,600 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails, including hundreds under administrative detention.
The NGO estimates that arrests have doubled since Oct. 7 compared to the same period last year.


Turkiye, Niger agree to enhance defense cooperation

Updated 18 July 2024
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Turkiye, Niger agree to enhance defense cooperation

ANKARA: Turkiye and Niger agreed to boost cooperation on energy, mining, intelligence, and defense after the West African nation asked Western military personnel to leave and terminated the mining contracts of many Western countries.
Turkiye’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, along with Defense Minister Yasar Guler, Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar, and head of the MIT intelligence agency Ibrahim Kalin visited Niger’s capital Niamey on Wednesday.
As well as their ministerial counterparts, the Turkish delegation met with Niger’s leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tiani, who took power in July last year after the military council he led ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and shifted the country’s allegiances.
The junta kicked out French troops and ordered the US to withdraw its military personnel from the country. It also severed security pacts with the EU.
The Turkish ministers’ visit to Niamey comes two months after Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
On Wednesday, Turkish and Niger officials discussed improving cooperation in defense intelligence, Fidan told reporters after their talks.
A Turkish Defense Ministry official said on Thursday that Guler discussed ways to enhance cooperation between Turkiye and Niger in defense and military training.
The two countries signed a declaration of will to support and encourage Turkish companies to improve oil and natural gas fields in Niger, Turkiye’s Energy Ministry said on Wednesday.
Niger has Africa’s highest-grade uranium ores, and it is also the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium.
But Ankara is not seeking to buy uranium from Niger for its first nuclear power plant being built by Russia’s Rosatom at Akkuyu in Turkiye’s Mediterranean region, a Turkish diplomatic source said.


Displaced Sudanese eat dirt to survive, children too tired to cry says US envoy to UN

Updated 18 July 2024
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Displaced Sudanese eat dirt to survive, children too tired to cry says US envoy to UN

  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield calls on international donors to honor the pledges of aid for Sudan they made during Paris conference in April
  • She says efforts continue in attempt to reach ceasefire agreement between rival military factions, and to open up access for humanitarian aid

NEW YORK CITY: The US representative to the UN on Thursday painted a dire picture of the situation affecting the people of Sudan, which she said continues to be “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield lamented the international silence regarding the tragedy that is unfolding in the civil war-ravaged country, and the failure of donors to honor a significant proportion of their financial pledges of aid for Sudan made during an international conference in Paris on April 15.

The conflict in the country erupted in April 2023, between two rival factions of the country’s military government: the Sudanese Armed Forces under Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, more commonly known as Hemedti.

More than 10 million Sudanese civilians have been displaced by the conflict, including more than 2 million who have fled to neighboring countries in search of safety, Thomas-Greenfield said. The number of refugees from Sudan in Chad alone doubled during the first 12 months of the conflict, with more civilians fleeing there in a single year than during the previous 25 years combined, she added.

About 25. 6 million people now face food insecurity at crisis level or worse, Thomas-Greenfield said. About a third of them are dealing with emergency conditions and 750,000 people, including women, children, the very old and the very young, are at risk of famine and starvation.

Recalling her trip to a refugee camp in Chad last year, she said people were “eating dirt to survive, tree leaves for nutrition,” and children were so weak “they lacked energy to even cry.”

She added: “The room was quiet, totally quiet. That level of suffering is occurring all over Sudan, over and over and over again.

“I’ve said (before that) this is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And that has not changed. And sadly, the silence I heard that day in Chad has been met with even more silence across the world.”

Three months after the conference Paris, Thomas-Greenfield said, only two-thirds of the pledges have been paid out and only about a quarter of the required response to the crisis has been funded.

She also warned that humanitarian access to the country, which is “already severely restricted by the parties to the conflict, threatens to even further shrink.”

She highlighted in particular continued obstruction by the Sudanese Armed Forces at the Adre crossing on the border between Chad and West Darfur.

“This obstruction is completely unacceptable,” she said. “To make matters worse, experts predict that the rainy season will decrease already severely restricted cross-border access,

all while floodwaters worsen the already dire conditions in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of waterborne diseases.”

Although the scale of the crisis is “overwhelming,” Thomas-Greenfield stressed that “now is not a moment to throw up our hands.”

She announced a further $203 million in humanitarian assistance from the US for the civilians in Sudan, Chad, Egypt and South Sudan who have been affected by “this brutal conflict,” and expressed hope that “this new round of aid serves as a call to action for others to follow suit.”

But she added that “this money is not a panacea,” and vowed her country will continue to urge the warring parties in Sudan to support “an immediate ceasefire and to remove barriers to humanitarian access and delivery of aid.”