Seventy percent of the Turkmens of Tel Afer have been displaced from their city from the beginning of April 2003 until now.
Tel Afer is the largest Turkmen city of Mosul Province, it is also the largest sub-district of this Province (with its 500.000 inhabitants), it has an important and strategic location in the north-west of Iraq.
It is known as being the northern base of the 1920 Iraqi revolt against the British occupiers, indeed, that revolt began from Tel Afer and it was the first stage towards liberating Iraq from the British occupiers.
Since the beginning of April 2003, the inhabitants of Tel Afer have been displaced from their city by the US occupying forces and their allies the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Turkmens of Tel Afer are against the occupiers, whoever they are.
The following are the reasons why the Kurds want to control and later annex Tel Afer to their Autonomous Region:-
- to unite so-called ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’ with so-called ‘Syrian Kurdistan’ in order to form their illusionary ‘Great Kurdistan’.
- for economical reasons: they want to control the Rabee’a border gate, between Iraq and Syria, to profit from its huge income, like they already do in Khabur.
- they want to control the new border gate, supposed to be opened between Turkey and Iraq, which lies in the area belonging to Tel Afer.
- for Tel Afer’s fertile soil: on the completion of the irrigation project in the region, as the income from the agricultural crops will equal that of the region’s oil revenues0
- because of the Aski Mosul lake with its dam which produces about 500 Megawatts today.
Kurds and certain groups in Iraq are trying to antagonize and divide the Turkmen Shias and Sunnis, but Turkmens throughout their long history in Iraq have never differentiated between Shias and Sunnis. Their objective and main concern is to obtain their legitimate rights in Iraq, equal to those of their Arab and Kurdish compatriots.
On 15th April 2003, when the Kurdish Peshmerga entered Tel Afer their plan was to control this Turkmen city. They immediately went to the Mayor’s office, tore the Iraqi flag and raised instead the yellow flag of Barzani. On seeing this young Turkmens rushed into the Mayor’s office and in their turn they ripped of Barzani’s flag and raised the Iraqi flag again.
On the next day, the Turkmens discovered that the Peshmerga occupied the Mayor’s and the Customs offices and had appointed a Kurdish governor for their city and that they had began looting the public offices and transferring all the documents, furniture etc. to the Kurdish area. At the same time the Peshmerga began raiding Turkmen houses under the pretext that they were searching for governmental vehicles. As the Turkmens resisted, the Peshmerga left the city after looting everything.
One week later Jowdat Nadjar was sent by Barzani to the city to tell the Turkmens that Barzani was very upset and that they should know that they are part of Kurdistan and should be under his control. The Turkmens’ answer was that the Peshmerga had began attacking them and looting everything and that they should know that Tel Afer is not part of ‘so-called Kurdistan’.
Despite this, the Kurdish leadership opened two offices in Tel Afer, for PUK and PDK, and they organized an election to elect a new mayor and new City Council, hoping that their men, Kurds or those who were bought, would win, but they didn’t. Meanwhile Al-Arabiya TV interviewed Mr Massoud Barzani who said, commenting on Turkey’s intention to open another gate with Iraq near Rabee’a: “ this would affect Habur gate and we will never accept this and we will use force if necessary”.
The Turkmens of Tel Afer elected the Mayor and city council members they wanted in June 2003 and the Mayor controlled the city, but the Peshmerga who had turned into National Guards supported by the US occupier began provoking the city through every day raids alleging searching terrorists. When the Kurdish incidents began in Hassaka and Qamishly Syria on 13th March 2004, Barazani sent tens of his followers to Syria as a solidarity sign, 45 of them were arrested by the Syrian border authorities and were submitted to the nearest Iraqi police station which is Tel Afer police station. The Kurds asked the Chief of the Police Station and the Mayor of Tel Afer to free them, but they both refused. A week later the Mayor was assassinated while on his way from Mosul to Tel Afer and the Americans and Peshmerga in Iraqi National Guard uniforms intensified their attacks on Tel Afer alleging that the city was harbouring ‘Arab terrorists’.
The Kurds supported by the Americans continued terrifying operations to force the Turkmens to leave their city. When a few US patrols were attacked in and around Tel Afer the Americans took this as a pretext to besiege strike and devastate the city. Thousands of Turkmens fled to nowhere while the Americans and Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraqi National Guard uniforms were bombing and raiding the city. The Turkmeneli TV transmitter was their first target, there were checkpoints controlled by the Kurds on the way to Tel Afer to stop any aid, food, water, medicines, tents, blankets etc. from reaching the devastated city. At the same time they refused the TV and media to enter the city.
After several days the only help which could reach the outskirts of Tel Afar was from the Turkish Red Crescent because the Turkish government threatened to enter Iraq to help the devastated city. Hundreds of Turkmen civilians were killed and hundreds of young Turkmens were arrested.
The Turkmens who were driven out of their city could not go back because their houses had been destroyed.
The US forces are still now in the historical Al-Qala’a area of Tel Afer and they are harbouring the PUK and PDK offices.
In August 2005, 8.500 US and Iraqi military forces (New Iraqi army brigades from the northern division were almost all Kurdish militias) again attacked the city.
The US and Iraqi troops sealed off the city, enclosing it behind a massive wall of sand with military checkpoints. Then the city’s inhabitants were forcefully evacuated leaving them to fend for themselves. The Red Crescent was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the exodus and was unable to provide shelter, water, or food for many those who fled. The city was then relentlessly pounded for more than a week by Abram’s tanks, F-16s, helicopter gun-ships, and heavy artillery. At least four mosques were bombed and the Sarai area was hammered persistently with 500 and 1000 lbs bombs. The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported “Eyewitnesses spoke of ‘scores of casualties due to indiscriminate bombing”.
The siege was executed according to the normal protocols; massive destruction of personal property, levelling areas where resistance appeared, snipers picking of anything that moves on the city streets, and the routine rounding up of anyone who seems at all suspicious. Rumsfeld’s lone mantra “surround, isolate and destroy”.
Thousands of Tal Afer residents were trapped inside Sarai by the cordon of tanks and barbed wire that was flung around the district to prevent resistance fighters from escaping. Significant parts of Tel Afer were destroyed. Electricity and phone services were cut off and hospitals were breaking down. The Iraqi Human Rights Centre issued an urgent appeal to the Iraqi government to stop the assault and allow rescue teams to access the area to deliver food, water and medical supplies.
Dr. Muhammad Qasim, the Director of the Tal Afer Branch of the Iraqi Red Crescent announced that 90 percent of the residents of the city had left as refugees because of the battles raging there as US occupation troops attacked the city. He added that more than 170 cases of poisoning due to American chemical agents such as white phosphorus had been brought into hospitals outside Tal Afer in the nearby cities of Mosul and Ba’aj.
Through Mfakarat al-Islam, Dr Qasim called on what he called “honest satellite TV stations to come to Tel Afer and broadcast what was going on there to the world”.
The purpose of these systematic attacks and intimidations carried out in Tel Afer was to break the spirit of the Turkmens and to frighten them into emigrating. The final objective is to annex this Turkmen city to the Kurdish Autonomous Administration; especially that the so-called Kurdish constitution already included Tel Afer in the region they are claiming.
The Turkmens of Iraq ask the Europeans to put pressure on both the American occupation authorities and the Iraqi government to fulfil their promises: rebuild the city, compensate the families and help the displaced inhabitants (70% of the population of Tel Afer) to return to their city.
They demand that both authorities stop the siege of the city which began three years ago, and provide sufficient medicines and food for the city.
They insist that there should be an international presence, supervised by the United Nations, to stop the US forces and the Kurdish militia from continuously raiding the city and killing its inhabitants.
They hope that the Europeans will take their responsibilities and help the Turkmens of Iraq who are being ethnically cleansed and who suffer under double occupation of the US and Kurdish militias since April 2003.