October 24, 2007 / 11:50 AM / 12 years ago

End of road for Iraqis on Turkish border

IRAQ/TURKEY BORDER (Reuters) - It’s the end of the road for Amanual Yusif.

He fled Kurdistan in northern Iraq in 1976 when Saddam Hussein’s forces destroyed most of his village. He left the capital Baghdad in 2003 when U.S. forces invaded, and then quit the northern city of Mosul in early 2006 as violence there escalated.

Now Yusif, 57, is one of 50 men, women and children left in a village a few hundred meters from a river that cuts a turquoise swathe through stunning mountain gorges and separates Iraq from Turkey.

“I give up. I’m staying here now. There’s nowhere else to go,” he said, while Turkish forces camped on a ridge blasted a few artillery shells into a neighboring valley.

At the same time the Turkish army was firing shells into the Iraqi mountains on Tuesday, the country’s foreign minister, Ali Babacan, was meeting his counterpart in Baghdad to try to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis facing the two countries.

Turkey’s parliament last week gave the military the green light to cross into northern Iraq to hunt down separatist guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who have stepped up their deadly attacks on Turkish soldiers this year.

Washington and Iraq have urged Turkey to hold off, fearing an incursion will shatter the stability of Kurdistan, which has escaped the daily catalogue of bloodshed plaguing much of the country and is now enjoying an economic renaissance.

The residents of Deshtatakh say they have endured days of shelling and air bombardments around their village. Some 150 people have already fled to the Iraqi towns of Zakhu and Dahuk.

There are two small craters in the road winding down the valley to the settlement. The valley is eerily silent.

High above, two fighter planes trace straight white streaks on the azure sky, bank and disappear away over distant ridges. High on a hill across the river there is a Turkish tank, barrel pointing down the valley, and a Turkish flag painted on the mountainside.

There is hardly any sign of Kurdish soldiers in the valley of terraced orchards flanked by steep ridges of scrub that leads to Deshtatakh. Two walk through a field, two more clamber high through the rocky terrain, a donkey with supplies in tow.

NOWHERE TO RUN

The inhabitants of the village, a 90 km (55 mile) drive from Dahuk over winding mountain passes with fabulous vistas, are now putting their faith in international efforts to head off further conflict.

“Every day there’s shelling. It’s continuous,” said Goreal Weuda, 56. “We don’t want anyone to take our rights away or to scare us.”

“We ask the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi government to solve the problem politically and for Turkey to stop threatening the people.”

“The security situation in the whole of Iraq is bad. So we came here and now we have nowhere to run,” he said.

The village is made up of Iraqi Catholics and was completely rebuilt in the past two years by the regional government. A new yellow church with a red roof stands nearby, awaiting its first priest.

A few miles back from the border is another new village of 24 lilac, green and salmon-pink houses. It is deserted.

In a field nearby is a man called Fadhil Salim, 28. He lived there with his parents and seven siblings. They have all gone to Zakho to flee the bombing, but he has driven back to tend to their fields of peach trees, tomatoes, melons and pomegranates.

None of villagers say they have ever seen any PKK fighters in the area and suspect the Turkish shelling is designed to frighten them into leaving their homes.

“The problem is between the PKK and Turkey, so why should they destroy the situation here?” said Yusif. “It’s a Turkish problem, it’s nothing to do with us.”

Some in the village complain that they would not feel comfortable in big towns and could not pay the rents anyway.

“This is my land. I will not leave it for any reason, not for Turkey or for anyone else, even if we all die,” said Weuda.

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