Sep 13, 2017

Civilian impacts of renewed Turkish and Iranian cross-border bombardments in Iraqi Kurdistan (2015-2017) - Report by CPT, August 2017

Christian Peacemaker Teams:
Building partnerships to transform violence and oppression.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is an international human rights and violence reduction non-governmental and non-profit organization. CPT offers an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other forms of lethal inter-group conflict and provides organizational support to persons committed to nonviolent alternatives in situations where lethal conflict is an immediate reality or is supported by public policy. CPT accompanies communities affected by violence and oppression, documents human rights violations and advocates for  nonviolent solutions.

Civilian impacts of renewed Turkish and Iranian cross-border bombardments in Iraqi Kurdistan (2015-2017)
Report by CPT, August 2017

Alana Gully.jpg


Decades of bombing along the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan and its neighboring countries of Turkey and Iran has created an ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis for the village population and migrant families inhabiting these regions. Accounts from civilians and members of local municipalities paint a stark picture of the ongoing effects these conflicts are having on the local population. The following is a sampling of reports taken by CPT from 2015 to 2017 outlining the current state of impacted villages and seasonal settlements along Iraqi Kurdistan’s borders with Turkey and Iran. Based on the following findings we would call on the governments of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan as well as armed resistance groups to ensure protection of civilian lives and property, and to engage in diplomatic peace talks resulting in an immediate ceasefire. We also ask foreign governments and institutions to withdraw support from these conflicts along the borders and use diplomatic means to help bring an end to this protracted war. In addition, by amplifying the voices of villagers living in these border regions CPT aims to raise awareness and encourage action of the international community.

Historical overview

Iraqi Kurdistan
Iraqi Kurdistan (IK) is an autonomous region located in the north of Iraq. The region has its own President, Parliament, judicial system, security, and military structures. Iraqi Kurdistan borders Turkey to the north, Iran to the east and Syria to the west. These borders are defined by international treaties. The southern border between Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq is not clearly defined and shifts depending on current political climates of the two governments. The rugged Zagros mountain range forms the borderlands between Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey and Iran. For millennia Kurdish peoples have inhabited these rising mountains and fertile valleys sustaining their livelihoods by farming, grazing animals, local trade and crafts. Due to their historically strategic importance, many armies and armed resistance groups have used these mountains for battle operations and protection as well as  fought for control over this region.

Main actors
The main actors of the current cross-border conflicts are the Armed Forces of Turkey, the Islamic Republic of Iran and several armed groups within Iraqi Kurdistan. These groups took up arms in what they say is a struggle for self-determination against political and socio-cultural marginalization and oppression of Kurdish people in Turkey and Iran. The armed group and political movement with the strongest influence as well as largest area of control in the region is the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). This group began fighting against the Turkish state in the 1980’s after a military coup in Turkey. In the early 1990's the PKK moved many of its fighters, camps and bases to Iraqi Kurdistan. Other armed groups  that have been using this mountainous region for their operations against Iranian state’s forces are: Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), Society of Revolutionary Toilers (Komala),  Kurdistan Free Party (PAK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran (PDK-I).

Historical civilian impact
Hundreds of villages and small towns dot the Zagros mountains and valleys along the Iraqi Kurdistan borders. In addition, thousands of migrant shepherd and farmer families use the region between the months of March and October to farm, raise flocks and sell produce. Turkish and Iranian forces frequently use fighter jets, helicopters and artillery to bomb and shell hideouts of armed groups also living within these mountains. An official of the Turkish consulate in Erbil, IK told CPT in 2017 that past attacks against Turkish military forces motivate Turkey to continue its bombing campaigns. The PKK asserts that, the Turkish government has denied the Kurdish people their rights in Turkey and they will not lay down arms until their inherent rights are recognized and respected.  As a result of the constant aerial bombardment and shelling, the civilian population of the Zagros Mountains is deeply impacted. Villagers, and migrant communities, for whom this region has been a lifeline of their livelihood and culture for centuries, have suffered for over three decades.

2013-2015 Ceasefire
Throughout the war the PKK announced a number of unilateral ceasefires. The Iranian front has seen its ebbs and flows of violence. The latest ceasefire began in March 2013 and took form of peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the PKK. Displaced persons returned to their villages and started farming, raising their herds and rebuilding their homes. During this period, the area flourished. In July 2015 the ceasefire between PKK and Turkey broke and at the same time Iran and other armed groups reengaged in military actions. Renewed bombing has resulted in damage to civilian homes and structures, lost livestock, burned fields, civilian casualties and civilian deaths.

Current civilian impacts

Injury and death
The Turkish and Iranian governments assert that they have not targeted civilians during their bombing campaigns against the PKK and other armed groups in the borderlands of Iraqi Kurdistan. However, the most severe effects experienced by people in the conflict regions are death and serious injury.  On August 1st, 2015 the village of Zargali, located in the Qandil area, was targeted by Turkish bombing which resulted in eight deaths and many serious injuries. The attack started in the early morning as Turkish warplanes fired rockets into Zargali village destroying houses, killing an elderly woman, and injuring her husband and three relatives. After people from the surrounding area and other villages came to assist the wounded, warplanes returned firing rockets on to the rescuers killing seven and injuring eight more. The attack on Zargali, referred to as the Zargali massacre by locals, is just one example of the dangerous reality that civilians face.

In July, 2017, a Turkish bomb targeted a vehicle of people going for a picnic in Zakho District and injured four people. CPT has documented many injuries to civilians including Iranian shelling wounding children in the Alana gully of Choman district in June, 2016. The attack from Iran on the Alana gully lasted hours as many shells hit open spaces where families of migrant farmers lived and worked. Several children tending sheep took shelter behind stones as shells landed in the fields. By the end of the attack, three children had sustained injuries including one young female with a piece of shrapnel lodged in her wrist.

Furthermore, unexploded munitions left after Turkish and Iranian bombings pose a major threat to civilians. In the village of Barbzin in Sidekan district, a local farmer attempted to show CPT an unexploded Iranian shell but upon our arrival we found that it had discharged. The surrounding field was littered with shrapnel in an area where many migrant farmers work daily. The mayors of Qandil district also report huge numbers of unexploded bombs from Turkey lying in fields in addition to one lodged in a home in Endza.

During times of active bombings and shellings multiple villages are often displaced. This displacement can last anywhere from a few days to decades. The displacement has been so vast and ongoing that in many districts there are no accurate comprehensive governmental records. This lack of written documentation leaves a majority of details slow to emerge and left to oral history from villagers.
Many villagers have evacuated their original lands and built new villages nearby. Often the new sites are bombed and the village must move again. Shahe in the Akre district as well as Sargali in the Amedi district have both been in three separate locations due to Turkish bombings targeting the PKK. Shahe once contained fifteen families but now contains five with a majority of people only returning for the planting season. The sub-mayor of Dinarte informed CPT in August 2017 that twenty villages in Dinarte are currently completely displaced with their inhabitants relocated to the cities of the district. He also stated that villagers are “petrified to visit their fields.” This displacement, either partial or total, is the reality for hundreds of villages throughout Iraqi Kurdistan.

Property Damage
For people still in their homes the situation is often severe. Concussions from the bombings easily collapse houses, crack cement walls and shatter windows. When Turkey bombed Zargali in August 2015, seven homes were completely demolished. An additional 33 families reported damage to their homes and shops. In May 2016 Turkish airstrikes targeted the village of Dupre in the Akre district leaving many windows blown out of houses, holes in roofs and the water tanks of the school destroyed. People took refuge in their homes as the attack happened at night and tried to stay away from windows. Villagers counted 56 explosions in the single bombing event causing damage to thirteen homes and the village mosque. CPT has documented numerous cases where whole villages claim that all of their windows were blown out as well as many structures damaged or destroyed. Residents of Dupre reported that a local TV station, NRT, contacted the Turkish Consulate to notify them that civilians had been bombed but that Turkey denied the accusations. The Turkish Consulate located in Erbil stated during a meeting with CPT in May 2017 that attacks against the PKK are happening far away from villages. This statement contradicts current CPT findings.

Loss of Land and Livestock
Many bombings occur during the dry months and target rural areas. These lands support whole communities as well as are seasonal places of residence for migrant farmers. Heat from the blasts creates massive fires that burn whole swaths of farmland destroying crops, orchards, beehives, wild grasses and local wildlife. A governmental report provided by the sub-mayor of Dinarte outlined damages to the sub-district in 2015. It stated that in the village of Shahe alone, over 500 sumac trees, all over sixteen years in age, were lost due to Turkish bombing. An estimated total value of land damages in the village of Shahe alone was over six million Iraqi Dinars. The Dinarte report lists over 350 million Iraqi Dinars of agricultural losses from lands of 135 property owners living in twelve villages.

Many families have seen their crops burn in consecutive years.  This generates a burden on the livelihoods of migrant agricultural workers as well as the villages which use the harvests to sustain their food needs. Herds are killed or lost during bombardments which leads to situations such as one in the village of Markajia in Amedi district where they can no longer raise animals.

A large number of migrant farmers rent land near the borders on a seasonal basis for herding and agriculture. Farmers have reported having to flee with their families leaving everything behind and losing the income from the herds and agriculture along with the investment for rent. For many families, farming this land is their only yearly income.

Loss of access to fertile herding and agricultural lands has burdened the nearby larger towns whose populations rely on the local harvests. In the Amedi and Akre districts many villagers have been completely cut off from visiting their lands due to the bombings or presence of armed groups. In a small number of cases villagers claim to be given a fifteen day permit to harvest sumac but face bombings outside of this short allotted time. In several evacuated villages such as Barbzin in Sidakan farmers have returned only to plant and harvest. In the latter situation, farmers say that they are under constant threat of bombings but can not support their families without the agricultural income. Villagers interviewed by CPT believe that the targeting of lands, especially before harvest, is deliberate as a form of collective punishment from Turkey and Iran against the villagers living within the conflict zone.

In all cases of cross-border bombing that CPT has documented there has been a noticeable and severe traumatic impact on civilians. The most stark being the effects on the families that have sustained casualties as well as children who have been through active bombings. Warplanes, surveillance drones and the close proximity of villages to Turkish and Iranian military bases, from which attacks have been launched, has left many people unable to lead lives without fear of future attacks.

A woman in Shora in Akre district described in great detail the events of the July 2017 Iranian shelling and its impact on her family. The shelling started at night and she claimed she was “out of her soul” as she fled with her children. She told CPT that now even when she sleeps she is terrified. These types of stories have been reported in 100% of the villages surveyed by CPT. Children in many cases are afraid to go to school as was the case of the bombing in Dupre in 2016 where students missed their final exams.

A doctor in the Qandil area reported in August 2017 that villagers are often afraid to seek medical attention after bombings for fear that their family will be bombed in their homes while they are away. Children in many villages have trouble sleeping and are worried about bombings at night. Villagers report that not knowing when the next attack will occur has resulted in high levels of anxiety. Numerous villagers have told CPT that even small sounds make them jump or think they are about to be bombed again.

Loss of infrastructure
Infrastructure has been greatly damaged due to shellings and aerial bombings. Along with homes and schools, also roads, water projects and electrical projects are destroyed. This has left a strain on residents to have access to basic needs. Because of the high level of threat, the government has not reinvested in the damaged villages and many lack basic necessities. In the case of Baste village in Qandil, an electrical project that would provide main power to several villages was stalled for a decade. The project was first stopped due to active bombardment from Turkey. Later it was also impacted by the financial crisis leaving very few funds to complete the power project years after it had been started. The mayors of Qandil reported to CPT that their electric projects have been targeted by Turkish bombings three times in the first half of 2017 alone. The mayor of Akre stated in August 2017 that his municipality can not repair roads to the villages due to the dangers of bombings.

No support systems in place
No reliable system to assist in times of crisis and active bombing, as well as no plans to help resettle displaced persons, exists for victims of cross-border attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan. The current war with IS (Islamic State), the economic crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, the length of the cross-border conflicts, and the lack of international awareness all contribute to an absence of support programs. The residents of Gwndajor told CPT that when they were displaced in 2016 there was no adequate system to assist them. They claim that only some families received a small amount of aid consisting of three blankets and a box of food. Displaced villagers caught in the cross-border conflict do not qualify for international aid programs as most are currently only supporting people affected by the war with IS in Iraq. Multiple municipalities have reported not having funds to assist with the displacement due to the financial crisis and limited budgets as well as a lack of involvement from the international community.

International law and treaty violations

Both Turkey and Iran have repeatedly asserted their rights to defend themselves against Kurdish rebel groups indigenous to their respective countries and claim that their state-sponsored attacks have been limited to military targets. The validity of such claims must be examined in relationship to the obligations of countries under international law and the nature of the military interventions inside Iraq. This review concludes that both countries have, in these incursions, violated international human rights laws and agreements.

As signatories to international human rights treaties and the Geneva Conventions, both countries have the obligation to ensure that in their military interventions, civilians are adequately distinguished and protected.

According to Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1942, and the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, the combat forces should make a clear distinction between civilians and military or armed forces. Article 51 (2) of protocol 1 prohibits civilians being the object of attack or acts or threats of violence, spreading terror among civilians, the attack of objects dedicated to civilian purposes, such as places of worship, dwellings, hospitals, clinics, and schools. Article 54, prohibits any combat forces from attacking or destroying things needed for the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas used for food production, livestock, crops, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, in order to deny the population sustenance or to cause them to move away for any other motive. Furthermore, Article 57 obligates those conducting military operations to take all feasible efforts to avoid the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, and to refrain from launching any attack that is expected to do so.

In the case of Turkey and Iran, CPT findings illustrate that they have not made a clear distinction between military and nonmilitary people. The Turkish and Iranian governments often report about their bombing campaigns focusing on military casualties and seldomly report civilian losses or damages sustained to the villages located in the borderlands of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Turkish government is also obligated to European Conventions on Human Rights (ECHR)  and following Articles 2, 3, 8, 13, and ECHR Article 1 of Protocol 1, to protect the rights of individuals to: life, freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, respect of their family and private life including their homes, and to find an effective remedy for the violation of these rights.

Moreover, according to the UN Charter Article 2.4: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations and Chapter VI, Article 33: 1. The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.

This CPT report indicates that both the Iranian and the Turkish governments have clearly violated all the above mentioned international standard laws. Both governments have failed to comply to international treaties in regards to civilian lives and properties. Furthermore, we have found that both countries’ military operations have targeted villages and villagers leading to casualties, destruction of civilian property and livelihoods and mass displacement.


As evident by this generation-long conflict, current military tactics are not an effective way to bring sustainable peace to the region. Civilians caught within these cross-border conflicts have sustained heavy casualties, deaths of their relatives, damages to property, loss of livelihoods as well as lasting traumatic effects. The targeting of villages and farmland is in violation of international laws and incompatible with healthy lives for civilians in the border areas. In addition, agricultural losses create a burden on the already crippled financial sector of the region affecting all Iraqi Kurdistan.

We find that there is an immediate and urgent need for diplomatic peace talks between all involved parties in these conflicts. Furthermore, we urge the international community including countries with diplomatic ties to involved parties to help foster a climate where these talks can take place.

CPT would also encourage other governmental and non-governmental organizations to assess the impacts on the local villagers in these border areas with a goal of providing immediate assistance to the affected civilians.

Download the PDF version of this report

To read more about Iraqi Kurdistan including personal stories of persons affected by cross border bombings within Iraqi Kurdistan as well as past CPT reports covering this topic please go to:

For more about Christian Peacemaker Teams please visit:

To contact CPT Iraqi Kurdistan office in Sulaimani:
+964 (0) 770 762 0641 (English)
+964 (0) 770 291 6487 (Kurdish, Arabic, English)

Injured land.JPGIMG_0006.JPG

*cover photo - Young female in the Alana Gully with shrapnel in her wrist from Iranian shelling. June, 2016

*Villager from Barbzin village showing CPT remnants  of an Iranian bomb that burnt his field. June, 2016.

*Home destroyed by Turkish bombardments in the Qandil region. 2015

Sep 7, 2017

Uncertainty about future bombardments

By; Peggy Gish

Abdulla Mala talking to CPTers about the latest Iranian bombardments in Gwndajor. Photo by: Julie Brown.
“The people in our village are very anxious.  They don’t know when the bombs will come again!” Abdulla Mala, farmer and resident of the village of Gwndajor, in the Choman District, told members of CPT as they sat in his family’s home on 2 August, 2017.  To get there, we drove through beautiful mountains and valleys, and looked down on lush gardens and orchards terraced down steep mountain sides.
Kak Abdulla spoke about the bombardment by Iranian fighters on Gwndajor and the surrounding rural areas that happened from 5 AM to about 2 PM on 3 July, 2017, using guided missiles, RPG’s, and machine guns.  He said that one reason  Iranian forces attacked this area is because there were members of the Iranian rebel group, the KDPI (Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran) staying in the area.  
As soon as the bombardment got heavy and came close to their home, they, and other families from the area got in their cars and fled.  Kak Abdulla's family went to the town of Choman , returning later that afternoon when they heard that the attacks were over.  Local authorities gave a few of the displaced families three blankets and a box of food each while they were away.  Otherwise, they received no outside aid during that time.
When they returned, the family found out that the bombardment damaged two houses in the village area. One was that of a woman residing two kilometers from the border.  She was injured and her house demolished by forces shooting machine guns from the Iranian military base on top of the mountain, at the border.  These troops also injured three fighters from the KDPI.  Their shelling damaged twenty farm animals and twenty bee hives, but no farm land or crops.

Out of the seventy-eighty families living in the village, about fifty have returned.  What Kak Abdulla conveyed to us was that although people are afraid, they do not want to lose their homes and land in this beautiful mountainous area where their families lived and farmed for generations.  Kak Abdulla and his family are among the families of the border villages who will do all they can to stay and not be displaced.

Aug 28, 2017

Violence against people engaging in public discourse in Iraqi Kurdistan - Human rights report by CPT, August 2017

Christian Peacemaker Teams:
Building partnerships to transform violence and oppression.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is an international human rights and violence reduction non-governmental and non-profit organization. CPT offers an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other forms of lethal inter-group conflict and provides organizational support to persons committed to nonviolent alternatives in situations where lethal conflict is an immediate reality or is supported by public policy. CPT accompanies communities affected by violence and oppression, documents human rights violations and advocates for the nonviolent solutions.

Violence against people engaging in public discourse in Iraqi Kurdistan

Human rights report by CPT, August 2017



The current condition of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan has concerned many people, institutions and human rights organizations. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been neglecting large-scale human rights violations and in many cases the government itself has committed violations towards members of civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, political activists and religious leaders which is contrary to standard international laws. The following report outlines current findings in regards to human rights violations relating to freedom of speech and political expression currently taking place in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Overview of Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan (IK) is located in northern Iraq with a population of over 5 million as well as over 2 million IDPs and refugees. It is the only autonomous region in Iraq and is officially governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with its capital being in Erbil.  The Kurdistan region has its own government, parliament, judiciary system, flag and separate regulations from the central government of Iraq. The establishment of the region dates back to a March 1970 autonomy agreement between the Kurdish opposition movement and the Iraqi government following years of heavy fighting. After the agreement was not implemented another lengthy civil war followed between Saddam Hussein and the Kurds. The Iran/Iraq War, and the Anfal Campaign against Kurds, led by Saddam’s Iraqi Army, devastated the population and environment of Iraqi Kurdistan. During the Kurdish people’s uprising in March 1991, the Kurds and Peshmerga (the Kurdish Army) pushed out the Iraqi Army from most of the areas of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the United States-led invasion of Iraq, a new constitution was drafted in 2005 defining Kurdistan Region as a federal entity of Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan is comprised of four main governorates: Sulaimani, Erbil, Duhok and Halabja. However, since the Iraqi crises and war against IS (Islamic State), the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken control over many disputed areas including a majority of the Kirkuk governorate and parts of Nineveh governorate.    

State of human rights and freedom of speech in Iraqi Kurdistan

The people in Iraqi Kurdistan long suffered from the previous Iraqi regimes. Throughout history many Kurdish people protested, fought and struggled for freedom of speech. However, since the formation of Iraqi Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous government in 1991 the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not yet provided a space where journalists, human rights, civil society, and political activists can freely function. Over the past few years, it has been increasingly difficult for the above-mentioned groups to exercise freedom of speech and expression. Many journalists and members of civil society have been killed, severely beaten, imprisoned, threatened, had movement within Iraqi Kurdistan limited, or have been displaced outside of the country stating that Iraqi Kurdistan has become a very unsafe place for them.

Current situation surrounding Referendum on Independence

The authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan have planned a referendum vote for independence of Iraqi Kurdistan from the Central Iraqi Government set to take place on September 25th, 2017. As part of its mandate, Christian Peacemaker Teams - Iraqi Kurdistan (CPT) as an international human rights NGO sees the issue of the referendum as a right for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan to decide and holds no official position as to a desired outcome. However, we are obliged to observe the current status of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan throughout this process. The discourse regarding the referendum has greatly impacted many people throughout the region.

The upcoming referendum vote for Kurdistan's independence has been a political highlight for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan but engaging in the process of critique and debate has proven difficult for many activists and journalists. The Kurdish political parties, civil society, religious leaders and journalists have been divided between two groups: one supporting the referendum, and the newly formed “No for Now Movement” standing in opposition. The "Yes" campaign is being led by the two central governing parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the No for Now Movement being organized by some members of parliament, local businessmen, members of civil society, religious leaders and journalists. Supporters of the "No for Now" campaign in Sulaimani, Duhok and Erbil cities, as well as several districts, have found it difficult to openly debate and critique this issue. They often face threats of or even direct violence. In addition to physical violence and harassment, the two main KRG political parties have directed warnings of expulsion from Iraqi Kurdistan towards those publicly voicing criticism to the referendum.

To date, The Kurdistan Regional Government has not provided the civil society, journalists and other political or nonpolitical groups with a safe space to express their views freely. Despite all the challenges that the above named groups are presently facing, in the past many people have been killed, threatened, imprisoned, beaten or expelled from their cities and homes. The late events in Iraqi Kurdistan such as the ongoing financial crises, the non-functional Parliament, corruption and a lack of safeguards protecting freedom of speech and political expression, coupled with the slated referendum vote for Kurdish Independence has made a volatile political climate in the region and set a stage for increasing human rights violations.

Current findings of persons at risk

Christian Peacemaker Teams - Iraqi Kurdistan would like to bring your attention to several members of civil society, journalists, religious leaders and members of Parliament that have been affected by the latest events. The following is just a sample of an influx of reports coming from within the region.

Sherwan Sherwani, an outspoken journalist, activist, and human rights defender. Currently, Sherwan is involved in the “No for Now” campaign for the upcoming referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. Recently security forces raided his home and he is currently being monitored by unknown people. Sherwan told CPT that security forces in Erbil and Duhok have threatened, imprisoned and insulted him in the past. Furthermore, the party media has started numerous social media accounts in a campaign of defamation targeting Sherwan and his family. Sherwan is seriously worried about his safety and the safety of his family members due to the continuous threat from the security forces in Erbil. He urges the international community to ask the Kurdistan Regional Government to protect his family as well as the rest of the people in the region.  

Farhad Sangawi, is an activist, member of Parliament and a journalist. Currently, he is part of a ‘’No for Now’’ campaign for the upcoming referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. His brother’s house was recently raided while Farhad was present. He was then abducted by unknown men accompanied by governmental security forces and later released. Mr Sangawi has been verbally threatened for his stance on the referendum campaign as well as been asked to leave the country.

Sami Othman Faraj (Mala Saman), is a religious leader and political activist in Chamchamal district. Mala Saman has been very outspoken about women's rights, the political status of the KRG and corruption in the region. On August 18th, 2017 while he was going to mosque to give his Friday speech, he was stopped by a BMW car and beaten severely. Mala Saman told CPT that five people in the car injured his head. Mala Saman also reported to CPT that the people who beat him were sent by the Chamchamal security forces. Furthermore, officials told him to leave his work or he would be assassinated. In 2011, the government fired him from his job for four years due to his involvement in demonstrations demanding freedom of speech and an end to corruption in public sector.


Christian Peacemaker Teams, as an international human rights organization takes no stance on Kurdistan's Referendum on Independence and sees the outcome of the impending vote to be a matter decided by the citizens of the region. However, as a human rights NGO we have been disturbed by our recent findings of violence, kidnappings and threats resulting from public engagement of Iraqi Kurdistan's citizens in debate surrounding the referendum vote. We also have great concern over the ongoing threats towards those openly critiquing the current situation within Iraqi Kurdistan. CPT sees these actions as major human rights violations and condemns any such acts against journalists, activists, and religious leaders.

As Iraq is a signatory of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the Kurdistan Regional Government's duty to provide protection to people living within Iraqi Kurdistan and to safeguard their inherent human rights including their rights to safety and freedom of speech.

Download the PDF version of this report

To read more about Iraqi Kurdistan including personal stories from threatened persons within Iraqi Kurdistan please go to :

For more about Christian Peacemaker Teams please visit:

To contact CPT Iraqi Kurdistan office in Sulaimani:
+964 (0) 770 762 0641 (English)
+964 (0) 770 291 6487 (Kurdish, Arabic, English)
Facebook: @cpt.ik

*cover photo from

Aug 15, 2017

Family impacts of Iranian cross border shelling

By Julie Brown

Khatun Ali talking to CPTers at her home in Shora. Photo by: Julie Brown
Khatun Ali lives in Shora, a small village in the Choman district of Iraqi Kurdistan. She is the head of a household in an area that is regularly targeted by Iranian Military in a cross-border battle between the Iranian military and the KDPI or Kurdish Democratic Party of Iranian. Khatun is a widow with three other people living in her home, a daughter-in-law, two small children and herself.  One of her sons is a Peshmerga who is often away.

“When my husband was alive, I lived like a princess honestly. I didn’t have a lot of responsibility. Now I have to look after a lot of trees, our herds and the children,” she said as she pointed to the sheep grazing on the hill just behind her home. She told of how her home and crops were burned three separate times during the time of Saddam but they managed to rebuild. “We were poor then but we had a good life. Things in the region have improved but here there are no salaries, food, or kerosene and now we are scared.”

On July 3rd Iranian shells, and large caliber bullets fired from within Iran and targeting KDPI positions hit the village of Gwndazhor and the surrounding mountains around Shora.  The attack wounded four people, destroyed two homes and killed several livestock. “Our villages are very close so the bombing in one area affects all the nearby villages” Khatun explained to CPT.

Villagers of Iraqi kurdistan have been affected by cross-border wars for decades. These attacks have stirred little notice from the international community however the human rights impact in the region has been huge.  The shells on July 3rd started in the very early morning as people slept in their homes. Khatun explained that at first she thought the loud sound was a landmine exploding. (This area is also riddled with unexploded landmines dating back to the 80’s, leftovers of the Iran/ Iraq War.) Her son, a member of the Peshmerga military forces, was also woken by the sound and told his mother that it was shelling from Iran.”We were petrified. The children were shouting and we left the village.”  Khatun recounted how they all piled into her son’s vehicle and fled the area along with the residents from all of the surrounding villages. “I was out of my soul.” she said regarding the fear and chaos.  During active bombings displacement of villagers is very common.  Whole areas flee to the larger towns where no structure for support exists.

The effects of these bombings are lasting in the region.  People killed or injured, displacement, damaged houses, lost livestock and burned crops are not the only effects. CPT has documented numerous people with high levels anxiety and trauma.  The rate is especially high among the children. Khatun’s family is just one example. “Even when I sleep in the nights now I am petrified.” Khatun said.  She said that she has no idea when they will shell the area again.  

Cross-border bombings have occurred along the Kurdish borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey for decades.  They have not been an effective solution to these regional conflicts and are causing great human suffering among the populations inhabiting these areas. The international community should remain aware of the impact these attacks are having on the civilian population and urge all involved parties to find a diplomatic solution.  

Aug 6, 2017

The Different Faces of Society

Teachers demanding their salaries through protests in the city of Sulaimani in 2016. Photo by; Rezhiar Fakhir
By: Peggy Gish
“So, what’s it like for the people in Iraqi Kurdistan?” my friends  back home ask me over the Internet, now that I’m back on the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan  team.
My answer would probably start with explaining that, of course, Iraqi Kurdistan and its government, the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) continues to be the most secure and stable area of Iraq.  It’s not so far in miles from Mosul, but is fairly removed from the battles with the “Islamic State.”   From outside the country, it may appear that life in the KRG is going smoothly, but from here, one can see that the average Iraqi Kurd is beset with various social challenges.   
The economy is a big one. The first thing many Kurdish people mention is that they are in an “economic crisis.”  Teachers and lower-level government workers--people drawing a paycheck from the KRG--except for the Peshmerga and other security forces, whose salaries are partially provided by the U.S. and their allies--have in the past year, received just a fraction of their salaries, or in many months, none, yet are being forced to continue working their jobs to keep society running.   Kurdish officials publically maintain that they are bankrupt and don’t have enough funds. They also say the KRG is still caring for the needs of displaced persons coming in from other areas of the country and several large refugee camps for Syrians.  Kurds I spoke to, however, say that most of the expenses of these camps are covered by international and private aid agencies.  
What I hear is that, yes, the price of oil on the world market has dropped. And, yes, the KRG no longer receives a percentage of Iraqi oil revenues from the Iraqi Central Government in Baghdad.  This was cut off a couple years ago, when the KRG started selling and keeping the profits of oil produced in the Kurdish region.  The Central Government also stopped paying the salaries of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters after the KRG insisted on keeping its control over them.  Kurds outside the government tell me that the KRG has enough revenues to pay their employees, but that money is being siphoned off and disappeared through mass corruption of government parties and leaders.
Another problem still plaguing Iraqi Kurdish society, is something we learned about back in late 2006, when our team moved here from Baghdad, and were invited to rallies protesting the attacks on citizens who spoke out publically against corruption and the lack of free speech. Unfortunately human rights violations are still common.
The teachers’ situation is a recent example of this kind of oppression.  For several months this past school year, teachers  went on strike. Almost daily, thousands of teachers nonviolently protested and marched on the streets, demanding their pay.  This winter, security personnel kidnapped, beat, burned the cars, or threatened the lives of several of the leaders of the marches.  Eventually authorities violently crushed the peaceful protests and forced the teachers, under threat, to return to their classrooms.
It is tragic that at a time when Kurdish fighters are being applauded by worldwide media in their successful battles against ISIS in Iraq, many Kurdish people feel oppressed by their own leaders.  It is sad to see the longed sought after dream of Kurdish self-determination in Iraq being plagued by internal divisions and repression.

I have learned, here, and back in my home country, that societies have at least two faces.  And many of us have found ways to navigate between the two very real sides.  The first involves the tragic realities of our governments’ and economic systems’ abusing their power and crushing the vulnerable inhabitants and the noble aspirations of the common hard-working citizen.  The second is  the reality of a beautiful culture and people that continues to care for and sacrifice for the well-being of their children and neighbors.  It involves those who rise above local prejudices, rivalries, and power-seeking to work for reconciliation and for more peaceful, just, and caring communities.  Both are real descriptions of what is happening in society here and at home, but it is in walking alongside the people in this second side that offers hope for a life-giving future.

Jun 6, 2017

Take ownership of your home

By: Daan Savert

Kak Bapir welcoming CPTers at his home village. Photo by: Daan Savert
On Monday May 15th, we as delegates of the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan spring delegation visited Basta, one of the 63 villages in the Pishdar region of Iraqi Kurdistan. We were welcomed by the village leader Kak Bapir and his family. “The people of CPT are no longer guests here,” Kak Bapir said. “So take ownership of your home.”

The civilians of the Pishdar region were displaced during the regime of Saddam Hussein. After the fall of the Ba’ath regime in 2003 the people were glad to come home again. But in 2007 a new period of misery started, when both the Turkish and the Iranian government started to bomb the region. In 2012 Iran stopped bombing, but until today Turkey has continuously been bombing the Pishdar district. The latest bombing took place on April 6, 2017.

One of the camps that was used by the villagers of Basta, while they were fleeing both the Iranian and Turkish governments bombardments. Photo by: Rezhiar Fakhir
Over the last ten years twenty people have been killed and more than one hundred civilian houses have been destroyed. The inhabitants of the Pishdar region have been displaced several times. The people suffer from a loss of animals, destruction of businesses and their agriculture and a delayed electrical project. All of this has resulted in a lot of mental health problems in the region. Because of the bombings there is a lack of teachers, since they are afraid to enter this region.

Basta has always represented peace. During the war between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the father of Kak Bapir talked with leaders of both parties and made them, after around seventy sessions, sign a peace agreement. The Turkish government claims to target the PKK with their bombings. If these bombings would “help” to defeat the PKK, then they would have been defeated twenty years ago. This is however not the case. The bombings are making life impossible in an area that, because of the great suitability for agriculture, beekeeping and livestock, could produce enough for the whole region.
On Thursday May 18th, we joined Kak Bapir at the Consulate General of the United States of America in Erbil. Kak Bapir asked the Consulate to put pressure on the government of Turkey to stop the bombing of the Pishdar region of Iraqi Kurdistan. We as the delegates of the spring delegation wrote a letter to the Consulate in which we amplified his voice in this important struggle.  Although the political officer, Adam Kotkin, expressed his understanding he kept repeating that Turkey is targeting the PKK, a group that is considered a terrorist organization by the USA. Kak Bapir invited the people of the Consulate to visit Basta, but the officer told him that because of security reasons there would be no chance to take this travel.

“Take ownership of your home.” Somehow these words that Kak Bapir spoke are still ringing in my ears. His hospitality and peaceful presence are a sharp contrast with the violence and injustice that are taking place in the region he is living in. We as the CPT delegation hope that somehow the small steps that are being taken in raising awareness and putting pressure one day will make Kak Bapir and the other inhabitants of the Pishdar district able to finally live in peace in their homes.