ARBIL, Iraq — Wrapped in the red-white-and-green Kurdish flags that are banned in Turkey, several thousand Iraqi Kurds took to the streets of Arbil Thursday to protest the threat of a Turkish incursion.
“Violation over the Kurdistan border is a violation of the people of Kurdistan,” chanted one. “No, no, to the Turkish threat, yes, yes, to peace,” shouted another.
Several thousand students, government workers, and union representatives massed outside the UN building in Arbil, the seat of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish government in the north of the country, to denounce the developments in Ankara.
The Turkish parliament Wednesday gave permission to the military to launch an incursion into northern Iraq to crack down on rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has bases in Iraqi territory.
Carrying Kurdish flags and banners written in Arabic, Kurdish, and English, protestors called for help to stop the Turks from launching any military action.
“We demand that the Iraqi government and international community stand together against the Turkish threat,” said one protestor.
Tight security surrounded the protest that saw traffic stopped in the center of Arbil as demonstrators handed over a letter to the UN official in the city.
“The best way to treat the PKK issue is to hold a dialogue between the Turkish leadership and the Kurdish leadership,” said Karim Ali, a 21-year-old student draped in a Kurdish flag.
“Why are they threatening us? We are not a part of the PKK issue,” he said.
Another protestor accused the Turks of having a hidden agenda targeting Iraqi Kurdistan, not just the PKK rebels.
“As big as this demonstration is, I think it will not be any use, because the Turkish have decided to destroy the Kurdistan experiment,” said Ahmed Salim, 19. “I don’t think we can stop the Turkish threat.”
The PKK has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Turkey says the PKK enjoys free movement in northern Iraq, is tolerated by local Kurdish leaders, and obtains weapons and explosives there for attacks across the border.
A Turkish government motion seeking a one-year authorization for one or more incursions into Iraq was approved by a landslide Wednesday.
The motion leaves it up to the government to determine the timing and scope of the operation and the number of troops to be sent.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stressed that parliamentary approval would not mean immediate military action, signaling that there still could be room for diplomacy.
Fearful Iraqi Kurds protest Turkish threat