Thousands of Iraqi Kurds Take to the Streets to Protest Anticipated Turkish Incursion
Thousands of Iraqi Kurds rallied in two Kurdish cities on Thursday, holding aloft red, white and green flags of Kurdistan that are banned in Turkey and calling for international support.
Kurds in the regional capital Arbil and the border city of Dohuk were fearful that a Turkish parliamentary decision to authorise a military incursion meant troops imminently crossing the border to hunt down rebels.
"No, no to the Turkish threat, yes yes to peace," chanted one protestor in Arbil. "Violation of the Kurdistan border is a violation of the people of Kurdistan," read a banner held by another.
Several thousand students, government workers and union representatives massed outside the UN building in Arbil, the seat of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish regional government, to denounce the developments in Ankara.
The Turkish parliament gave permission to the military on Wednesday to launch an incursion into northern Iraq to crack down on rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on Iraqi territory.
Carrying Kurdish flags and banners written in Arabic, Kurdish and English, protestors called for help to stop the Turks from launching any military action.
"We demand that the Iraqi government and international community stand together against the Turkish threat," one protestor said.
Tight security surrounded the protest which saw traffic stopped in the center of Arbil as demonstrators handed over a letter to the UN representative in the city.
"The best way to treat the PKK issue is to hold a dialogue between the Turkish leadership and the Kurdish leadership," said Karim Ali, a 21-year old student draped in a Kurdish flag.
"Why are they threatening us, we are not a part of the PKK issue?" he asked.
Another protestor accused the Turks of having a hidden agenda targeting Iraqi Kurdistan, not just the PKK rebels.
"As big as this demonstration is, I think it will not be any use because the Turkish have decided to destroy the Kurdistan experiment," said Ahmed Salim, 19. "I don't think we can stop the Turkish threat."
In Dohuk, the main city on the border with Turkey, some 5,000 demonstrators gathered holding banners saying, "We condemn the Turkish threat," and calling for support from the international community.
They brandished Kurdish flags and pictures of the late Mustafa Barzani, the father of modern Kurdish nationalism whose son Massoud is president of the autonomous Kurdish region.
The rebel PKK has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Turkey says the PKK enjoys free movement in northern Iraq and is tolerated or even actively supported by Iraqi Kurdish leaders, something they strongly deny.
A Turkish government bill seeking a one-year authorisation for military intervention in Iraq was approved by a landslide on Wednesday.
The law leaves it up to the government to determine the timing and scope of any incursion and the number of troops to be sent.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stressed that parliamentary approval will not mean immediate military action, signaling that there could still be room for diplomacy.