Nearly 30,000 Kurds have been displaced from a multi-ethnic city south of Kirkuk where sectarian tension flared after Iraqi forces took control of it, humanitarian organizations said on Wednesday.
Most of those displaced from Tuz Khurmato are in need of urgent aid and staying in open shelters, officials from two international humanitarian organizations told Reuters.
A third, Amnesty International, said on Tuesday that satellite images, videos, photos and dozens of testimonies indicate that hundreds of properties were looted, set on fire and destroyed in what appeared to be a targeted attack on predominantly Kurdish areas of the city of about 100,000 people.
The Kurds fled after Kurdish Peshmerga fighters withdrew from the city on Oct. 16, as government forces and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization moved in in retaliation for an independence referendum held by the Kurdistan region authorities last month.
Tuz, located between oil-rich Kirkuk and Baghdad, is also inhabited by Turkmen and Arabs.
“Many of the people displaced are staying in the open and in public places, in schools, mosques or unfinished buildings,” aid Jennifer Connet, Oxfam’s Program Manager.
“They need emergency aid and also psychological support as many lost contact with children and relatives or witnessed traumatic incidents as they fled.”
The official of the other organization confirmed that account but gave only as background information in order not compromise its access to the displaced people.
At least 11 civilians were killed, Amnesty said, citing testimonies of people who escaped from the city who said they were attacked by Turkmen Shiite paramilitaries.
Popular Mobilization, a paramilitary force trained in Iran and supporting the Iraqi government in the region, was not involved in the violence that happened in the city, spokesman Karim Nuri told Reuters in Baghdad.
“It was not forced displacement, our Kurdish brothers fled fearing reprisals,” he said, calling on government security to put an end to the unrest.
“Problems happened between the different components, clans, families,” he said, refuting the political nature of the exodus.
The Kurds displaced from Tuz fled to the neighboring regions of Diyala, Sulaimaniya, and some to Erbil, further north, said Connet.
“Humanitarian access to the displaced families is possible but going to Tuz is extremely difficult,” she said.