Merry Fitzgerald ( Assistant to ITF Representative in Europe )
Speech delivered at the European Parliament on 27th March 2007 at the “Iraqi Turkmen: The Human Rights Situation and Crisis in Kerkuk” event.
Mr Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am speaking on behalf of Turkmens of Tel Afer in general and particularly on behalf of 70% of them who have been displaced from their city and houses beginning from April 2003 until now. Through this speech you will see the reasons why.
Tel Afer which is the largest Turkmen city with its 500.000 inhabitants has an important location in the north-west of Iraq, about 60 km from Mosul , 85 km from Turkey and 70 km from Syria .
Tel Afar is known as being the northern base of the 1920 Iraqi revolt against the British occupiers, indeed, that revolt began from Tel Afer and it was the first stage towards liberating Iraq from the British occupiers.
For us as Iraqi Turkmens, when speaking about Tel Afer and the reasons for the continuous strikes on the Turkmens of this city, we must first refer to the collective subconscious of the Turkmens being against the occupiers, whoever they are, then to the Kurds’ claim that Tel Afer is dividing so-called ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’ from Sinjar claimed by Kurds as being part of their region and so-called ‘Syrian Kurdistan’. Therefore, for the Kurds controlling and annexing Tel Afer is very important in uniting the parts of their illusionary state.
The Kurds also have economical reasons for wanting to own Tel Afer, there is the Rabi’a border gate, between Iraq and Syria, which they want to take hold of in order to profit from its huge income, in the way they are already profiting from Habur gate between Iraq and Turkey (all the incomes, customs duties etc from Habur gate go exclusively to the Kurds’ treasure, while at the same time they are receiving the largest share of the Iraqi annual budget).
The Kurds are also thinking in controlling the new border gate, supposed to be opened between Turkey and Iraq , which lies in the area belonging to Tel Afer. If they succeed in controlling this new border gate then they will hijack it as they did in Habur and thinking to do it with Rabi’a.
Another economic reason why the Kurds want to control Tel Afer is because of its fertile soil. According to experts on the completion of the irrigation project in the region, the income of the agricultural crops will equal that of the region’s oil revenues.
The Kurds also want to control the Tel Afer region because of the Aski Mosul lake with its dam which produces at the moment about 500 Megawatts and whose production could be increased under normal circumstances.
It is important to note that Tel Afer was the only city outside the Kurdish autonomous region which was not looted and burned by the Kurds on the first day of the occupation as they did in Kerkuk, Tuz Khurmatu and other Turkmen cities and towns because the Turkmens guarded and protected the official buildings of their city.
Kurds and certain groups in Iraq are trying to divide the Turkmens in Tel Afer in particular and the Turkmens in general, by saying that so many percent are Sunnis and the other shias. On the contrary, Turkmens everywhere in Iraq have concern in their just cause and do not differentiate between Shias and Sunnis.
On 15th April 2003, an officer called Khalil Ibrahim entered Tel Afer and he met the notables of the city telling them that the coalition forces had put him in charge of the city and the Peshmerga would enter the city on the same day and that the notables should receive the Peshmerga. When the Peshmerga entered the city they immediately went to the Mayor’s office, tore the Iraqi flag and raised instead the yellow flag of Barzani. On seeing this young Turkmens rushed into the Mayor’s office and in their turn they ripped of Barzani’s flag and raised the Iraqi flag again.
On the second day, the Turkmens discovered that Peshmerga occupied the Mayor’s and the Customs offices and had appointed a Kurdish governor for their city and that they had began looting the public offices and transferring all the documents, furniture etc to the Kurdish area. At the same time the Peshmerga began raiding Turkmen houses under the pretext that they were searching for governmental vehicles. As the Turkmens resisted, the Peshmerga left the city after looting everything.
One week later Jowdat Nadjar was sent by Barzani to the city to tell the Turkmens that Barzani was very upset and that they should know that they are part of Kurdistan and should be under his control. The Turkmens’ answer was that the Peshmerga had began attacking them and looting everything and that they should know that Tel Afer is not part of so-called Kurdistan .
Despite this, the Kurdish leadership opened two offices in Tel Afer, for PUK and PDK, and they began forcing the people to be with them. They offered lots of money to those who accepted. Thereafter the Kurds organized an election to elect a new mayor and new city council, hoping that their men, Kurds or those who were bought, would win, but they didn’t. Meanwhile Al-Arabiya TV interviewed Massoud Barzani who said, commenting on a question saying that if Turkey would open another gate with Iraq near Rabi’a this would affect Habur gate. He said: “we will never accept this and we will use force if necessary”.
The Turkmens of Tel Afer elected the Mayor and city council members they wanted in June 2003 and the Mayor controlled the city, but the Peshmerga who had turned into National Guards supported by the US occupier began provoking the city through every day raids alleging searching terrorists. When the Kurdish incidents began in Hassaka and Qamishly Syria on 13th March 2004, Barazani sent tens of his followers to Syria as a solidarity sign, 45 of them were arrested by the Syrian border authorities and were submitted to the nearest Iraqi police station which is Tel Afer police station. The Kurds asked the Chief of the Police Station and the Mayor of Tel Afer to free them, but they both refused. A week later the Mayor was assassinated while on his way from Mosul to Tel Afer and the Americans and peshmerga in Iraqi National Guard uniforms intensified their attacks on Tel Afer alleging that the city was harbouring Arab terrorists.
The Kurds supported by the Americans continued terrifying operations to force the Turkmens to leave their city. When a few US patrols were attacked in and around Tel Afer the Americans took this as a pretext to besiege strike and devastate the city. Thousands of Turkmens fled to nowhere and while the Americans and Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraqi National Guard uniforms were bombing and raiding the city; the Turkmeneli TV transmitter was their first target, there were checkpoints controlled by the Kurds on the way to Tel Afer to stop any aid, food, water, medicines, tents, blankets etc. from reaching the devastated city. At the same time they refused the TV and media to enter the city.
After several days the only help which could reach the outskirts of Tel Afar was from the Turkish Red Crescent because the Turkish government threatened to enter Iraq to help the devastated city. Hundreds of Turkmen civilians were killed and hundreds of young Turkmens were arrested.
The Turkmens who were driven out of their city could not go back because their houses had been destroyed.
The US forces are still now in the historical Al-Qala’a area of Tel Afer and they have emptied tens of houses from their owners for their safety, and they are harbouring the PUK and PDK offices.
The airstrikes and raiding continued on the city, trying to control it in a way or another.
In August 2005, 8.500 US and Iraqi military forces (those New Iraqi army brigades from the northern division were almost all Kurdish militias) again attacked the city.
The US and Iraqi troops sealed off the city, enclosing it behind a massive wall of sand with military checkpoints. Then the city’s inhabitants were forcefully evacuated leaving them to fend for themselves. The Red Crescent was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the exodus and was unable to provide shelter, water, or food for many those who fled. The city was then relentlessly pounded for more than a week by Abram’s tanks, F-16s, helicopter gun-ships, and heavy artillery. At least four mosques were bombed and the Sarai area was hammered persistently with 500 and 1000 lbs bombs. The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported “Eyewitnesses spoke of ‘scores of casualties due to indiscriminate bombing”.
The siege was executed according to the normal protocols; massive destruction of personal property, levelling areas where resistance appeared, snipers picking of anything that moves on the city streets, and the routine rounding up of anyone who seems at all suspicious. Rumsfeld’s lone mantra “ surround, isolate and destroy ”.
Thousands of Tal Afer residents were trapped inside Sarai by the cordon of tanks and barbed wire that was flung around the district to prevent resistance fighters from escaping. Significant parts of Tel Afer were destroyed. Electricity and phone services were cut off and hospitals were breaking down. The Iraqi human rights Centre issued an urgent appeal to the Iraqi government to stop the assault and allow rescue teams to access the area to deliver food, water and medical supplies.
Dr. Muhammad Qasim, the Director of the Tal Afer Branch of the Iraqi Red Crescent announced that 90 percent of the residents of the city had left as refugees because of the battles raging there as US occupation troops attacked the city.
He added that more than 170 cases of poisoning due to American chemical or poisoned gas bombs had been brought into hospitals outside Tal Afer in the nearby cities of Mosul and Ba’aj.
Through Mfakarat al-Islam, Dr Qasim called on what he called “honest satellite TV stations to come to Tel Afer and broadcast what was going on there to the world”.
The purpose of these systematic attacks and intimidations carried out in Tel Afer was to break the spirit of the Turkmens and to frighten them into emigrating. The final objective is to annex this Turkmen city to the Kurdish Autonomous Administration; especially that the so-called Kurdish constitution already included Tel Afer in the region they claimed.
We Iraqi Turkmens ask the Europeans to put pressure on both the American occupation authorities and the Iraqi government to fulfil their promises, rebuild the city and compensate the families and help the 70% of the population to return to their city.
We demand, that both authorities stop the siege of the city which began three years ago, and provide sufficient medicines and foodstuffs for the city.
We insist that there should be an international presence, supervised by the United Nations, to stop the US forces and the Kurdish militia from continuously raiding the city and killing its inhabitants.
We sincerely hope that the Europeans will take their responsibilities and help the Turkmens of Iraq who are being ethnically cleansed and who suffer under double occupation of the US and Kurdish militias since April 2003.
Assistant to ITF Representative in Europe
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