SANKASAR, Iraq – Since Turkish warplanes turned her village home into a heap of rubble last week, mother of eight Aziya Rasheed says she has lost all hope for the future.
Air strikes on mountain villages around the town of Sankasar in northern Iraq on December 16 destroyed much of Rasheed’s modest home as the family slept, injuring her 16-year-old daughter so severely that she had to have her leg amputated above the knee.
“We lost everything, even my daughter’s leg. Isn’t this terrorism from Turkey?” she said angrily.
“I have no hope of going back to my demolished home, all my livestock are dead and the future of my children is uncertain. How are they going to study here when I’m living in a small room like this?”
The family will have to survive the rest of the bitter winter in a small mud-brick room belonging to relatives in Sankasar, about 160 km (100 miles) north of the city of Sulaimaniya.
The fate of Iraqi civilians caught up in the fight between Turkish forces and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas could effect the delicate balance of security in northern Iraq.
Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops on the Iraqi border and waged a campaign of low-level cross-border strikes on PKK militants for several months, accusing PKK fighters based in Iraq of carrying out deadly attacks in Turkey.
The campaign intensified this month, with air and artillery strikes and small-scale cross-border raids by ground forces.
U.S. and Iraqi authorities describe the PKK as terrorists and say they support Turkey’s right to strike back. But they have also expressed concern that civilian casualties could destabilize northern Iraq. Washington has had to tread a delicate path between the interests of its two close allies.
WHERE WERE PKK FIGHTERS?
Turkish forces say they killed more than 150 PKK fighters in the December 16 air strike, their biggest yet.
The mayor of Sankasar, Abdullah Ibrahim, said there were no PKK fighters in the area and the strikes had forced 370 Iraqi Kurdish families to flee their homes in surrounding villages.
“The constant presence of Turkish planes over the villages has deterred everyone from returning because they fear another attack,” he said.
Reuters was unable to verify whether PKK fighters were in the area or how much damage was caused to PKK targets.
Iraq protested after the December 16 strike that at least one civilian, a woman, had been killed. The Turkish military denied any civilian targets were hit.
The Iraqi government said on Sunday it would pay 1 million dinars (about $700) to each family displaced by the strikes.
Mohammed Hasan, a 40-year-old father of six whose house was destroyed by Turkish bombing, says he is afraid to return to his village because Turkish planes still fly overhead.
“The bombing began in the middle of the night, I quickly got everyone out of the house and soon after, I looked back at my house and saw it burning,” he said, breathing deeply.
“It was destined for us Kurds to face all these tragedies. First Saddam Hussein kept us on the run and now Turkey and Iran take it in turns to bomb us,” he added.
Aid from charities and donations from businessmen in Sulaimaniya have provided most needy families with basic food like rice, sugar and tea, and blankets were distributed to help them survive the cold weeks ahead.
Shlier Khudhur, a 30-year-old woman now living with her brother, sobs as she recalls the night she lost her home.
“I was wounded when the house fell on top of us during the air strikes. We have lost everything we ever owned,” she said.
“I wish I had died rather than live through this.”