In what has been described as the largest cross-border attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Turkish military is now into its 6th day of a ground offensive inside the Kurdish region in Iraq. Turkey says the attack is limited to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets, but the ramifications go much farther.
Turkey has been fighting the PKK for more than three decades. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S., and the European Union. The PKK claims to be a liberation group fighting for the recognition and rights of Kurds. Until recently, the fighting had been contained to the mountains along the Turkish Iraqi border - as the PKK are based deep inside caves within the mountains.
Beginning in December 2007, the Turks began a series of air attacks beyond the mountains inside Iraq. These attacks resulted in civilian deaths, injuries, and extensive property destruction. Thousands of villagers fled to surrounding towns and cities to live as internally displaced people (IDP'S), relying on the UN and the ICRC for basic provisions.
Even though flyovers by Turkish surveillance planes were a daily occurrence, some of the villagers returned home to check on their property and livestock. By day, they repaired damaged structures or fed their remaining animals. By night, they slept in caves which offered just a bit more protection.
By January 2008, more villagers were being encouraged to return home as it looked as though the threat of attacks might de-escalate. But in February, tensions heightened, and once again the ones that returned to their villages had to flee for safety. Children have been uprooted, and it is often impossible for them to continue in school as IDP's. Although there have been no civilian casualties reported with this latest grand-scale attack, the psychological damage and the disruption of lives remains devastating.
The Iraqi Kurds have not been this close to autonomy since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. They have made many strides towards independence and they believe that Turkey is not very happy about it. The Kurds feel this invasion has little to do with the PKK and more to do with pushing the development of Kurdistan backwards.
Iraqi Kurds believed that they could count on the U.S. for support and protection. With the green light given to Turkey to attack inside Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds once again feel betrayed. They have appealed to the U.S. and the EU to back up their demands that Turkey pull out its troops immediately. They have asked for the U.S. to force Turkey to the diplomatic table to work this out peacefully. So far, their appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
The Kurdish people have survived numerous genocidal attacks over the centuries. They are strong, resilient, proud, and accomplished people - and they will not go down without a fight. The U.S. could do much do stop the bloodshed. If this fight continues to escalate, one of the few relatively stable and peaceful regions in Iraq will soon be lost.
Michele Naar-Obed, lives in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a member of the Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker Community providing temporary housing to homeless families and individuals. She is a part time volunteer with the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), has gone to Iraq five times with CPT, and is currently in Iraqi Kurdistan. Michele blogs at: duluthcpt.net