Doctors from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) published a report summarising evidence of Turkish chemical weapon attacks in northern Iraq and calling for an urgent investigation by an independent organisation.
While the doctors were prevented from conducting a thorough investigation into claims of Turkish chemical weapons use, they noted the existence of indirect evidence supporting these claims including the discovery of chemicals and gas masks at a site used by the Turkish army, and footage of Turkish soldiers using an improvised gas device.
Kurdish fighters found empty containers of hydrochloric acid and bleach after recapturing a cavernous area in the mountains of Werxelê, the report said.
“Those agents can be easily used to produce chlorine, a gas that is notoriously known to have been used, for example, by the Assad regime in Syria as a chemical weapon,” it said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attacks on civilians during the country’s ongoing civil war.
At the site, Kurdish fighters also found “an empty container for a gas mask cartridge … for protection from biological and chemical agents,” the report said.
“The question arises why Turkish soldiers would have to protect themselves from chemical agents,” it added. “So far, the Turkish government have not accused the PKK of using chemical warfare in North Iraq.”
The delegation, consisting of former biological weapons inspector Jan van Aken member of the scientific advisory board of IPPNW Germany and IPPNW Switzerland President Joseph Savary, came with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s blessing to investigate historic use of chemical weapons against Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
But they said the KRI authorities had blocked them from investigating claims of chemical weapons use by Turkish forces in their ongoing operations against Kurdish guerrillas.
“Last week, we visited the Anfal monument in Chamchamal and the Halabja monument, we also visited Amedi town and tried to reach Hrur village and Kani Masi because we had received several reports that chemical weapons were being used there,” Van Aken said during a press briefing.
“There have been reports that chemical weapons are being used in that area. We also wanted to conduct an investigation and prepare a report on this issue,” he said. “We wanted to talk to Haji Abdullah, a casualty of chemical weapons. Still, the mayor of Amedi did not allow us and prevented us from conducting the investigation.”
The alarm over Turkish use of chemical weapons was raised by hundreds of reports from Kurdish residents and fighters in northern Iraq, where Turkey has launched a military operation against guerrillas linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
These reports include footage showing Turkish soldiers pumping gas into a cave during an operation against PKK fighters in the mountains of northern Iraq.
The IPPNW’s report notes that the PKK’s claim that Turkey carried out as many as 1,300 chemical attacks could be the result of a tactic to use smoke from burning materials to force fighters out of caves.
Even this may constitute a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention, since it amounts to the use of toxic smoke or fumes to harm an enemy, the report said.
By the same token, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s 2021 admission to parliament that Turkish soldiers had used tear gas against the PKK “amounts to acknowledging a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and should be prosecuted under international law,” it said.
Several reports from the region have also pointed to the use of harmful chemicals against civilians, including one notable press report that some 550 villagers had sought treatment for symptoms consistent with exposure to chemical weapons.
The IPPNW doctors had planned to interview the family members of Abdullah Hirure, the victim of an alleged chemical weapons attack, as well as the doctors who treated him.
But, the governor of Amediye, the province where the attack allegedly took place, barred the delegation from visiting the area.
The doctors therefore said an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the UN Secretary General, or a third party was necessary in order to establish “facts, to uncover the truth, in either direction.”
“This is undeniably a key foundation to uphold the strong international norm against chemical weapons,” they said.