The Iraqi army’s attack on Duz Khurmatu claimed the lives of a number of civilians, meanwhile, houses and shops of ethnic Kurds were either looted or burned down, according to a journalistic inquiry by KirkukNow on the days followed October, 16, 2017.
As fierce battles broke out between Iraqi forces and Kurdistan Reginal government-backed forces overnight, Kurdish families in Duz Khurmatu were forced to flee, leaving everything behind.
Now many of these displaced families are in appalling living conditions and in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
Shamil Mahmoud, 64, recalls the events of that night when he was anxiously looking out from his house’s window.
“I was hearing the sound of gunshots and mortar fire coming from everywhere. I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to know whether I should stay or leave”, he said.
“Plumes of smoke were filling the sky. It was like doomsday”, he added.
Shamil Mahmoud, who was a resident of Komari neighborhood, stayed up all night waiting to know how things will end.
According to Shamil, the gunshot spree started after midnight.
“At the beginning I didn’t predict that the Peshmarga forces will withdraw. They fought back for several hours, but after 5 a.m. everything changed. I don’t know what happened. I saw bodies lying in the streets. People were fleeing in fear of their lives. We were shot at as we passed through our neighborhood”, he said.
At 6.10 a.m. Shamil told his children that they have to leave Duz Khurmatu.
The disputed territory of Duz Khurmatu in Salahaddin province was the first territory overrun by Iraqi forces on October 16, 2017, after PM Haider al-Abadi ordered a large-scale operation to impose the federal government’s total authority in disputed areas bordering the Kurdistan Region.
As Shamil and his family were making their way out of their neighborhood, the bombardment intensified, exit roads were getting more crowded.
“We had little chance of survival. Kurdish-populated neighborhoods were being randomly bombarded with heavy artillery and many were killed. I thought our death was inevitabl”, Shamil said recalling the events of that day.
Amina Hussein, another resident of Duz Khuratu’s Komari neighborhood and currently settled in Znana sub-district, 22 km east of Duz Khurmatu says, “Until one o’clock after midnight, the Kurdish Peshmargas were reassuring us that nothing has happened, but after that, confrontations started and we fled the town before sunrise. I saw many dead bodies of civilians and security personnel left behind in the alleys and on the streets”, she told KirkukNow.
On the morning of October 16, the first group of Duz Khurmatu’s ethnic Kurds left the town.
Sami Ahmed who was father of 4 children was one of those who were killed on that day. His wife, Khawla Majeed, 31, says, “at around 5 a.m. I heard the sound of gunshots. My husband went to the main door to see for himself what was going on. A few moments later he was shot dead in front of our house”.
She said that her husband was unarmed.
Khawla went on saying, “later my sister came and said we had to leave as soon as possible. My husband’s dead body was lying there but I couldn’t do anything about it. I had to run to save my four children”.
Khawla and her children live in a small place which used to be a barn.
She says, “I lost my husband. They say our house had been burned down. Now all I want is that my children would not starve.”
According to Khurmatu administration statistics, 200 houses, 100 shops and stores in the town’s Kurdish-populated Komari neighborhood had been either looted or burned down. Meanwhile, 50 houses which belonged to Kurdish officials and members of the Peshmarga forces were blown up.
Eyewitnesses confirmed to KirkukNow that they had seen numerous acts of human rights violations, including random killing, looting and burning of properties.
However, Muhammad Fayiq, director of Duz Khurmatu district media department denied that civilians were killed, indicating that “11 members of the KRG’s civil defense police and Peshmargas were killed, while only four people are presumed missing”.
Ali Hashim, a spokesman for the Iraqi Popular Mobilization units (Hashd al-Sha’bi) in Duz Khurmatu speaking to KirkukNow said, “The statistics are not accurate, but some of the houses and shops were burned due to the bombardments”, noting that Kurdish Peshmargas had “bombarded Turkmen-populated neighborhoods, inflicting casualties”.
In the meantime, the United Nations in a statement issued on November 19, 2017 said that a UN team visiting Khurmatu “saw for themselves in Duz Khurmatu some 150 premises that had been burned or otherwise damaged, and that up to 11 houses reportedly belonging to Kurdish families and officials were destroyed by explosives in the city.”
On October 17, PM Haider al-Abadi acknowledged that violations were committed in the town saying that he “ordered the arrest of anyone poses a threat to internal security.”
Out of Duz Khurmatu’s total population of 180,00, an estimated 60 thousand Kurds live in the multi-ethnic town along with the Arab and Turkmen components.
Many of the people who fled Khurmatu to the Kurdistan Region have not returned home apparently fearing repercussions.
Jum’a Muhammad Salayi a displaced person from Duz Kuurmatu says, “the town is still not safe for Kurds to return.”