Steve Sweeney is a journalist from Britain’s Morning Star newspaper and spent more than a year living in Slemani in Iraqi Kurdistan. He is working on a book titled Bashur: Kurdish resistance movements in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This report was compiled using information gained from numerous meetings and trips across the region over a two year period including the Qandil mountains, Ranya, Kuna Masi, Makhmour refugee camp, Shengal, Dukan, Kalar, Halabja, Duhok, Erbil and the Medya Defence Zones.

Steve was able to meet with local politicians, journalists, medical staff, NGOs, activists and security officials along with military commanders, peshmerga forces and guerrilla fighters along with local residents of the many towns and villages I visited.

He does not claim to be an expert on Kurdish issues however has reported extensively from the ground on the impact of Turkey’s invasion and occupation and the intolerance of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to any form of dissent.

Turkey has bombarded Iraqi Kurdistan’s Duhok province for 10 months to global silence. The main victims of Operation Claw Lightning are civilians.

It has been accused of chemical attacks yet the OPCW and world bodies have so far refused to send a fact-finding team to the area.

Medics, peshmerga, NGOs, Kurdish officials and villagers all state clearly their belief that chemicals have been used.

Testimonies from health officials claim they have been threatened and forced to change medical reports that said they treated patients for exposure to chemicals.

Samples of soil, clothing and hair have been collected from the affected areas, but there has been a refusal to test them for the presence of chemicals.

Turkey’s military operation has seen the construction of many new military bases linked by a network of roads that also lead across the border. The expansion has led to charges of a de facto occupation.

Air strikes have targeted hospitals, civilians and political leaders in Shengal, Qandil and Makhmour Refugee Camp. These are war crimes yet the international community has remained silent.

All three areas operate a system of self-administration that follows the principles of Democratic Confederalism.

The KDP and Turkish intelligence are said to be colluding, with accusations that civilians have been threatened and pressured into becoming spies.
Security officials accuse Turkey and the US of being behind the resurgence of Isis in the region, the former to attack Kurds and the latter as an auxiliary militia against Iranian-backed forces.

Turkey launched Operation Claw Lightning on April 23 2021, the date that marks the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It claims its latest military intervention is aimed at bringing about the final defeat of the Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK).

Attacks by fighter jets and military helicopter were followed by a ground invasion near the Kurdish villages of Kesta and Hirure in Duhok province where Turkey claim to operate a “security zone” but in fact is expanding rapidly and resembles a de fact military occupation.

The Turkish state is also targeting last strongholds of the PKK, particularly Avasin where the village of Ars Fars has born the brunt of the alleged chemical attacks that have taken place in sites across Iraqi Kurdistan.

While the Turkish state anticipated a swift victory this did not come about due to the resistance of the PKK guerrilla [the armed-wing of the movement, the HPG] in the area known as the Medya Defence Zones.
It is not clear how many Turkish troops are inside Kurdistan, but it is believed to be at least two thousand. These forces are bolstered by mercenaries that have been shipped in from the battlefields of Syria and training camps in southern Turkey.

This claim has been made by PKK commander Cemil Bayik who claimed that Turkey was operating training camps in Cizre province close to it border with Iraqi Kurdistan. This has also been confirmed with myself by a senior KDP peshmerga official and senior PUK security official.

The main victims of Turkey’s military operation is however not the PKK, but the Kurdish people, thousands of whom have been forced to flee their homes, possibly never to return. Their land has been confiscated while thousands of acres of forestry has been destroyed.

According to the Christian Peacemakers Team, which has monitored the impact of Turkey’s bombing for a number of years 1,300 beehives have been destroyed, a major source of income for families in the affected areas.

The first reports of chemical attacks appeared in a Morning Star news article in April just days after the launch of Operation Claw Lightning.

“They used chemical weapons in the Mamresho hills overlooking Basyan river, and Marvanos hills overlooking the Avashin river,” Kurdistan National Congress spokesman Zagros Hiwa told me as I was in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“They have used the chemicals against the tunnels there,” he added, referring to the underground system used by PKK guerrilla fighters. Some 76 villages in Amedi district were cut off from electricity due to the Turkish bombing which also destroyed acres of forest land.

In May the Morning Star published details of a chemical attack in the Avashin mountains accompanied by video footage of the incident in a tunnel used by Kurdish resistance fighters, a number of whom were killed.

The report went viral leading to calls from Turkey’s opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate. Predictably the request was refused with the Speaker of the House branding such accusations insulting. But reports of chemical attacks continued.

Some incidents that were clearly not chemical attacks – including the use of green military grade flares – were unfortunately however presented as evidence, leading to the allegations being easily brushed off by the German government for example.

Similarly the British government has been able to dismiss the claims as propaganda of the PKK when letters have cited the movement’s reports as the only source of evidence. Of course, this gives the government an easy way out allowing it to continue support for its key regional ally.

Read the full report hereCollusion, Conspiracy & Corruption – Kurdistan Report – by Steve Sweeney 22 Feb 2022