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USCIRF Condemns Turkish Military Operations in Northern Iraq

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned Turkey’s latest round of air strikes and ground operations (“Operation Claw-Eagle” and “Operation Claw-Tiger”) near civilian areas in northern Iraq, calling on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to order an immediate end to these actions.

USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin said, “USCIRF calls on Turkey to immediately cease its brutal airstrikes in Sinjar, Iraq and to withdraw any ground troops—who represent a dangerous escalation of violence in an already-fragile area. These actions are particularly threatening to hundreds of traumatized Yazidi families attempting to return to Sinjar and to other civilians in northern Iraq—none of whom deserve to be placed in harm’s way by a NATO ally.”

The Turkish government claims that these actions, representing the most recent in a series of similar operations in the Sinjar area since 2017, are ostensibly targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions. However, these indiscriminate operations have taken place just days after 200 families arrived in Sinjar after six years in a refugee camp in Dohuk, Iraq. It also was 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).

“Turkey’s operations in Iraq and northeastern Syria make it clear that regional ambitions—not domestic security—are driving its actions today, and it cannot be allowed to do so with impunity,” USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins stated. “We call upon the 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.”

Since 1984, Turkey has waged an intermittent war against the PKK, the Turkish military has frequently targeted PKK ،or those of groups directly or indirectly tied to the PKK—in neighboring Iraq and Syria. In this massive campaign, Turkey has claimed to strike over 500 militants in areas where there is no indication of attacks planned or occurring against Turkey. Once again, Turkey is showing their disregard for vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities who live in, or have been displaced to, those same areas.

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

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