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HRW: 7 civilians killed in Turkish military’s possible war crime in northern Iraq

Turkish military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that killed at least seven civilians in Iraq’s Kurdistan region over a year should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

Speaking to HRW by phone, witnesses and relatives explained that, in what appeared to be Turkish air and ground attacks during four operations held between May 2017 and June 2018, the Turkish army killed at least six men and one woman and injured another man.

The civilians said there were no apparent military objectives near the strikes. HRW reported that they were unable to visit the sites but obtained photographs and death certificates to corroborate the allegations.

It is not the first time Turkey kills civilians in its operations in Qandil mountains. According to an Amnesty International report, Turkish airstrikes in August 2015 killed eight residents and injured others on Aug. 1 in the village of Zergele, in the Qandil mountains.

Dr. Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) coordinator for international advocacy, told HRW that the KRG does not coordinate with the Turkish army on upcoming military operations. He said the KRG “encouraged a peaceful settlement of the conflict between both sides,” and has regularly condemned attacks that have harmed civilians.

HRW has received no response from the Iraqi or Turkish authorities.

In its report, HRW called on Turkey to compensate victims of any unlawful strike and take all feasible measures to minimize civilian casualties.  “As Turkey steps up operations in Iraq, it should be taking all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians there,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

“Turkey should investigate possible unlawful strikes that killed civilians, punish those responsible for wrongdoing, and compensate victims’ families,” she added.

HRW also stressed that Iraq and the KRG should press the Turkish government to hold investigations and compensate those who were victims of unlawful attacks. “While the obligation to investigate and compensate lies with Turkey, Baghdad and Erbil should take all possible steps to protect Iraqi civilians from unlawful military operations,” Fakih concluded.

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