Turkish strikes in northern Iraq spark fires

A picture taken on April 17, 2022 shows smoke billowing from behind the mountains of Matin (Jabal Matin) in the town of Chiladze before the official announcement by Turkey of an offensive targeting rebels in the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region. - Turkey on April 18 said it has launched an air and ground offensive against militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. (Photo by AFP)

Turkish airstrikes on Wednesday have caused widespread fires in the Al-Amadiya district north of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkish Minute reported, citing local sources.

The airstrikes targeted positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Matin Mountains’ Sur Sekiri area, igniting fires that have damaged agricultural land and forests. Civil defense teams have been unable to reach the area due to the ongoing security situation, a government source told the Shafaq news website.

“The fires have destroyed hundreds of dunams [a quarter of an acre] of agricultural land and forests and are still burning,” Shafaq quoted the source as saying. “Civil defense teams have been unable to reach the area due to the security situation.”

Local villager Nizar Sargale told the Rudaw news website that the fires have not been brought under control, with residents of neighboring villages attempting to extinguish the blaze. The mountainous terrain has greatly complicated firefighting efforts.

Turkey has frequently conducted airstrikes in the Kurdistan region against the PKK, which it and its Western allies have designated as a terrorist organization. However, these strikes have resulted in civilian casualties and property damage.

A recent report by the US-based NGO Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT) indicated that Turkish forces launched nearly 1,000 attacks in the Kurdistan region in the first half of 2024. The strikes often spark fires, especially during the hot, dry summer months.

The ongoing conflict between Turkey and the PKK has had a severe impact on local communities. Many families have been forced to flee their homes, particularly in northern Duhok province near the Turkish border, leaving entire villages empty. A 2020 Kurdistan region parliamentary report indicated that over 500 villages have been abandoned due to the conflict.

The PKK has waged an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for decades, seeking greater Kurdish rights. In response Turkey launched its Claw-Lock operation in northern Duhok province in April 2022, aiming to target PKK positions in the Metina, Zap, Avashin and Basyan areas.

Both the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan regional government have been accused of tolerating Turkey’s military activities to preserve economic ties. Following high-level talks between Turkish and Iraqi officials in April, Iraq designated the PKK as a banned organization.

The Turkish Armed Forces rarely comment on their operations in Iraq.

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