US religious freedom commission condemns Turkish operations in N. Iraq

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has condemned the air and ground operations of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) near civilian areas in northern Iraq, according to a press statement issued on June 19.

USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin said the commission had called on Turkey to immediately cease “its brutal airstrikes in Sinjar, Iraq and to withdraw any ground troops. … These actions are particularly threatening to hundreds of traumatized Yazidi families attempting to return to Sinjar and to other civilians in northern Iraq.”

USCIRF states that the Turkish military operations are in close proximity to towns and camps in which displaced Yazidi families have taken refuge since the 2014 genocide by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The TSK operations, known as Claw-Eagle and Claw-Tiger, were launched on June 14 with the aim of “ensuring the safety of the Turkish people and borders by neutralizing the threat of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and other terrorist groups,” the Anadolu news agency reported. The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. Since 1984 more than 40,000 lives have been lost due to PKK activities and clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces.

According to USCIRF there was no indication of attacks planned or occurring against Turkey in the areas that have been targeted. USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins said the Turkish operations in Iraq and northeastern Syria were motivated not by domestic security concerns but by regional ambitions and called on the US administration “to utilize all diplomatic and economic leverage to protect vulnerable religious minorities in northern Iraq — as well as neighboring northeastern Syria — from Turkey’s indiscriminate military operations.”

In response to the statement, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hami Aksoy accused USCIRF of becoming “an instrument in the black propaganda of the PKK” and said the assertions were unfounded.

Aksoy also claimed that “tens of thousands of Ezidis cannot return their homelands due to PKK’s oppression, and those who achieved to resettle face atrocities of the terrorist organization which has nested in Sinjar by taking advantage of the fight against DAESH [an acronym used to describe ISIS in Arabic].”

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the US Congress to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and Congress to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the State Department include Turkey on its Special Watch List “for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.”

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