UN alarmed at clashes, house burnings in disputed Iraqi city

Iraqi Kurdish students of the Salahaddin University wave the Kurdish flag as they demonstrate in Irbil, the capital of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, on Monday, against the Iraqi premier. (AFP)
Updated 16 December 2017
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UN alarmed at clashes, house burnings in disputed Iraqi city

GENEVA: The UN voiced deep concern on Friday over the reported shelling and burning of homes in the Iraqi city of Tuz Khurmatu, warning of a “serious risk” that violence could escalate.
The UN rights office pointed to reports that residential areas of Tuz Khurmatu, in the Salahaddin governorate, had been shelled on Dec. 9 and 12, “causing casualties among civilians.”
“It is not clear who is carrying out the shelling, which is reported to be coming from the mountains overlooking the area,” agency spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
Iraqi forces are working to determine where the shelling is coming from and who is responsible.
Tensions have been swelling in the disputed area of Tuz Khurmatu following September’s independence referendum in the neighboring Kurdistan Region.
The city’s population is a mix of Turkoman, Kurd and Arab communities, and Throssell warned that “there is a serious risk that given the ethnic and religious fault lines in the area, that violence could escalate and spread.”
In recent weeks, clashes have raged between the Kurdish security forces also known as the Peshmerga and Turkmen Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs).
“This fighting has to date resulted in an unconfirmed number of deaths in each group,” Throssell said.
She said staff from the UN rights office visited the city on Dec. 7 and again on the 14th to investigate reports of the burning of homes and looting of businesses.
They had seen “some 150 premises that had been burned or otherwise damaged,” she said, adding that they had also spoken with people who had fled violence in the city and were currently staying in Kirkuk and Irbil.
In October, a similar number of houses were reportedly looted and burned by Turkmen PMUs and civilians, she pointed out.
As many as 11 houses reportedly belonging to Kurdish families and officials had also been destroyed by explosives in the city, Throssell said.
“Thousands of residents, mainly of Kurdish origin left for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, apparently fearing repercussions, and to date many have not returned,” she warned.
The UN rights office called for an end to “all acts that threaten the fundamental rights of the Tuz Khurmatu population.”
“We also call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that civilians there are protected and those responsible for human rights abuses brought to justice,” Throssell said.


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 22 October 2018
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.