Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq continue to threaten areas historically inhabited by Assyrians. Between October 2-6, 2019, multiple airstrikes struck parts of the Nahla region in Dohuk Governorate, Iraq, including the Assyrian villages of Rabatkeh and Hizane.
There were no civilian casualties in any of the bombings, but locals fear for their safety as the threat of future airstrikes is ongoing. The damage done to farmlands, property, and infrastructure was extensive.
In September 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that "Turkish forces appear to have extended their presence into northern Iraq" since March 2018. The airstrikes are targeting militants of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) who have "found refuge" in northern Iraq. The PKK is a Kurdish militant and political organization founded in Turkey throughout the region whose stated mission is to seek greater Kurdish political and cultural rights in Turkey. Since 1984, the PKK has been involved in an armed conflict with the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by several states, including the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as international bodies such as the European Union and NATO.
Dozens of Assyrian villages in the northern Iraq have been attacked by Turkish forces targeting the PKK over the years. Residents of Nahla report that the PKK presence in their villages dates back more than a decade and has steadily grown due to lack of intervention from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Residents have long feared that attacks on Nahla would increase as a result and say the PKK presence in the region makes them feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
The PKK presence in Assyrian areas poses many risks, restricts access to Assyrian lands, and hinders day-to-day activities for locals. In an interview with the API by phone, one local told the API, "This is a regular occurrence. We are not expecting anything to change. Assyrians are not a priority in Baghdad or Erbil."
The ongoing conflict in these areas between Turkey and the PKK has driven some locals to permanently leave their lands out of fear for their safety.
Both the Iraqi and KRG authorities have failed to condemn airstrikes in Assyrian areas and have yet to take concrete actions to prevent future attacks. Inaction by regional and federal government actors raises the likelihood that these areas will continue to be targeted.