Turkey slams U.S. rights group’s 'shameful' criticism of northern Iraq operation

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy on Sunday lambasted criticism by a U.S. religious freedom commission of Turkey’s recent military operations in northern Iraq, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. 

Aksoy said in a statement that it was "shameful" that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had criticised Turkey's fight against terrorism and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“It is shameful to criticise our country's fight against terrorism and to be a tool for the PKK's propaganda," he said. 

Turkey's air and land operations “Claw-Eagle” and “Claw-Tiger” were launched earlier last week against the bases of the PKK and affiliated groups in northern Iraq.

In a statement on June 19, USCRIF said it condemned Turkey’s latest round of air strikes and ground operations near civilian areas in northern Iraq and called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to order an immediate end to the actions.

“USCIRF calls on Turkey to immediately cease its brutal airstrikes in Sinjar, Iraq and to withdraw any ground troops - who represent a dangerous escalation of violence in an already-fragile area. These actions are particularly threatening to hundreds of traumatised Yazidi families attempting to return to Sinjar and to other civilians in northern Iraq - none of whom deserve to be placed in harm’s way by a NATO ally," USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin said in the statement.

But Aksoy accused the USCIRF of ignoring oppression by the PKK in Iraq and its affiliated groups in Syria against the region's people, including Kurds who did not embrace its ideology.

In the statement, he said thousands of Yazidis were unable to return to their homes in Sinjar, northwestern Iran because of the PKK that lodged itself in the region under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).

Turkey has admitted that it used F-16 fighter planes, missile launchers and heavy artillery in this week’s operations in northern Iraq, while lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament said that Turkish aircraft made a 200 km deep incursion into Iraqi territory in an unprecedented development.

More than 40,000 people have died in a conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK – which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union – since 1984.t

USCRIF, in its annual report on religious freedom released earlier this month, said Turkey is the only country among NATO’s 30 members that it recommended should be added to a U.S. State Department special watch list over severe violations of religious freedoms.

The commission's report covered violations in Turkey-controlled regions in Syria. The formation of so-called "safe zone" in northern Syria established by Turkey and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies has precipitated the displacement of some ethnic and religious communities the territory, it said.

Meanwhile, Syrian militias defaced several holy sites of religious minorities in northern Syria, USCIRF said, adding that non-Muslim communities remained in a constant state of fear.

"Religious minorities in other areas that Turkey seized earlier, such as Afrin, continued to experience persecution and marginalisation, especially displaced Yazidis and Christians," it said.

"What happened in Afrin is concerning that it would be a precedent for what we might see happening in other parts of northeast Syria," Voice of America quoted USCIRF Chairman Tony Perkins as saying.