|Local residents and MPs gathered in the town of Sheladiz located in the Amedi district of Dahuk governorate on Saturday, to protest continued Turkish-PKK violence in the region. A group of demonstrators moved from the protest site and raided a Turkish base in Sirye, approximately 3km east of Sheladiz, lighting tents and vehicles on fire. Turkish forces were forced to withdraw as local KDP security forces eventually arrived to disperse the riot. At the time of writing, two protesters were killed and 16 more were wounded.
Brief timeline of events:
23 January – Turkish warplanes target PKK in the Rashava area of Deraluk (NW of Sheladiz), killing a student and Peshmerga, two more individuals announced as missing
25 January – Search party discovers bodies of two missing hikers, also killed by Turkish airstrikes on 23 January
26 January – Residents protest in Sheladiz against the civilian deaths and Turkish-PKK conflict in the region
26 January – Demonstration turns to riot at Turkish base in Sirye, two protesters killed and 16 wounded; KDP security forces and Turkish warplanes deploy to the area to disperse the hundreds participating in the riot
26 January – KDP Zeravani (military police) deploy to Bamerne, site of the largest Turkish military base in Iraqi Kurdistan, due to information of possible protests at the base on 27 January. Sheladiz soldiers and MIT officers moved to Bamerne after withdrawal from riots; base estimated to host over 400 troops and heavy weaponry.
Formal statements from the Turkish Defence Ministry claim that the riot was a “PKK terror organization provocation”, rhetoric that reflects the longstanding conflict between the Turks and PKK across Kurdish inhabited regions of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. The KDP, holding strong support in Erbil and Dahuk governorates, also condemned the actions through vague statements about disruptive forces that will be investigated. The KDP, a rival to the PKK, is the party of current Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and has comparatively close ties to Turkey and. Coincidentally, on 26 January a Turkish Airlines flight arrived at the Sulaymaniah airport, the first time for a Turkish airline in 16 months. The boycott of Iraqi Kurdish airports came after the attempted independence referendum in September 2017. Flights to Erbil airport resumed in March 2018.
Despite the severity of local response, Turkish airstrikes during January 2019 are relatively in line with monthly frequencies witnessed since January 2017. As part of the anti-PKK counterinsurgent campaign waged by Turkey, airstrikes within Iraqi borders represent the large majority of incident activity. Rare instances of shelling and ground skirmishes also take place. Turkish rhetoric against the Kurds in neighbouring Syria has escalated over the past month, particularly with the announcement of a planned 20-mile security zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. Flare-ups of activity in northern Iraq (such as the riot at the Sirye base) may similarly see a rise in Turkish engagement in the region. It is yet unclear whether they will return to the Sirye outpost.
The KDP, particularly with the recent renewal of Sulaymaniyah flights and economic dependence of Kurdish Iraq on Turkey, will likely seek to reaffirm their political ties. Although discontent with (or animosity toward) Turkish and PKK conflict may be sentiment shared by those in affected areas, at the time of writing there no further protests or riots in the region similar to those seen in Sheladiz or Sirye. Additional political context for Sheladiz may also shed some light, being one of few towns in Dahuk where the KDP was not supported as the majority party, instead voting for the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) in the 2013 regional elections. Moreover, Sheladiz has been a location for anti-austerity protests and in March 2018 saw residents attack the convoy of Gorran MP Ali Hama Salih with rocks (who was similarly attacked during his visit the day prior in Zakho). These incidents give some precedent for civil unrest in the area.