CNA Staff, Jun 22, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement on Friday, calling on the Turkish military to halt airstrikes in northern Iraq, and urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop the military actions.
“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,” said the statement from USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin.
Manchin stated that the airstrikes 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 U.S. State Department declared in 2016 that Yazidis, along with the Christian and Shia Muslim religious minorities, were victims of a genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State in the region.
On June 15, Turkey began moving troops into the region. The operations are called “Operation Claw-Eagle” and “Operation Claw-Tiger.” “Claw-Eagle” refers to the airstrike campaign, and “Claw-Tiger” is the ground operations.
Turkey claims that the operations are targeting Kurdish rebels in the area–specifically members of the Kurdistan Workers Party–but the USCIRF disagrees with this claim. The airstrikes occurred just over six months after 200 refugee families arrived in Sinjar after spending six years in a refugee camp following displacement by the Islamic State, and the operations occurred near Yazidi towns.
“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,” Tony Perkins, vice chair of the USCIRF stated on Friday.
“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,” he added.
Turkey has been engaged in on-again/off-again war with the Kurdistan Workers Party, an organization that the United States has listed as a terrorist group, since 1984. The Kurdistan Workers Party advocates for a separate independent Kurdistan.
However, the USCIRF stated that there was no evidence that the Kurdistan Workers Party was actively planning any sort of action against Turkey at this time.
“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,” said the USCIRF.
“Once again, Turkey is showing their disregard for vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities who live in, or have been displaced to, those same areas.”
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