The presence of the Turkish army in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) dates back to the 1990s, when they arrived as peacekeepers during the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) civil war. But after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, they turned from peacekeepers to aggressors. The parliaments of both the KRI and Iraq have called for their expulsion from the country, but Turkey has only increased its military presence, citing its war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). At the moment, Turkey has around 65 military bases and headquarters inside Iraqi territories. All of these are in the zone of the KRI controlled by the KDP. The Turkish presence in Iraq has become a key political issue between Iraq and Turkey, and a huge security issue for the people of the Kurdistan Region.
According to local NGO Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT), in the first two weeks of August 2023, at least 50 bombardments have occurred throughout Iraqi Kurdistan—mainly in high-traffic areas frequented by civilians. At least 5 civilians have been killed and one has been injured.
Another joint report lead by the the End Cross Border Bombing Campaign (ECBBC) has found that between 18 and 20 civilians, including six children, were killed and 57 to 58 civilians were injured in 11 attacks conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) in Northern Iraq during 2022.The incidents recorded in 2022 have raised the total count to at least 97 incidents, in which the TAF have killed between 113 and 140 and injured between 187 and 215 civilians and non-belligerents in border areas of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with Turkey and Iran since 2015.
Since 2015, the persistent drone assaults and military campaigns by Turkey in the KRI have resulted in the evacuation of more than 200 villages, with an additional 600 villages adversely impacted. Furthermore, there has been significant environmental degradation, characterized by the intentional burning and deforestation of central Kurdistan’s mountainous regions.
This military aggression has not only undermined agriculture and tourism in the border regions, but has also exacerbated divisions within Kurdish politics and society—of course a key goal of the Turkish state. Specifically, the Turkish state’s maneuvers have heightened tensions between the PKK and the KDP to such a degree that the specter of a civil conflict looms between them—a development deeply unwanted within the broader Kurdish community.