Residents, environmentalists voice concerns

Tensions rise as Kurdistan Region locals protest Iran-Iraq border fence

GARMIYAN — Tensions have escalated in the border areas of the Kurdistan Region due to the construction of a fence along the Iran-Iraq border.

Locals are protesting the border fence that has been placed within the territory of the Kurdistan Region by 10 meters in some areas and up to 15 to 20 meters in others.

The fence is part of a 2023 agreement between Iran and Iraq aimed at securing their borders, primarily to clamp down on Iranian Kurdish opposition movements against Iran. Concurrently, the Iraqi government is reinforcing its borders with neighboring countries through various measures, including fence construction, the building of concrete walls, establishing surveillance points, and strengthening its border guards.

In recent years, Iran and Iraq have engaged in discussions aimed at combating Iranian Kurdish armed groups operating within the Kurdistan Region. These groups, which advocate for greater autonomy for Kurdish areas in Iran and have bases in the Kurdistan Region, have utilized the region as a base for launching cross-border operations against Iran.

Kurdistan Region land impacted by the new fence extends from the villages in the Qoratu area of the Garmiyan Administration to the border villages of Tawella and Biyara, and includes parts of the villages in the Penjwen district. On Thursday, residents of Chwarklaw village in the Qoratu district gathered to protest the fence construction.

Mohammed Salih, a village council member, told 964media that the disputed area is their ancestral land, and they will not permit further encroachment. “We are prepared to sacrifice our lives if necessary and have urged officials not to comply with Iran’s demands but seek an immediate resolution to the issue,” Salih said.

Environmental activists and animal rights advocates in Garmiyan have expressed concern over the impact of the fence on the region’s wildlife, particularly noting the threat to the Garmiyan deer population.  A group of photographers, known as “Kêwdostan,” who document the area’s wildlife, have highlighted how the fence disrupts the natural habitats and movement of local fauna. Niamat Malo, one of the photographers, told 964media, “The fence, which stretches from the plains to the Bamo mountain range and covers areas from Khanaqin to Qoratu and onward to Mandali, Badera, and Jassan, is pushing these animals away from Kurdistan Region territories.”

Malo added that the construction not only threatens the survival of hundreds of mountain wildlife species but also diverts water from the Qoratu river to Iran, affecting both the animals’ survival and the livelihoods of local people. The two-meter tall fence significantly restricts wildlife movement and roaming patterns.

Efforts are being made to lobby relevant authorities in the Garmiyan border area about the environmental and ecological dangers posed by the fence. Despite a temporary halt to construction work due to residents’ protests, Malo emphasizes the urgency for action to mitigate these risks, particularly for wildlife.

Meanwhile, in Halabja’s Nawroul area, residents of Kawta village have also protested against the fence construction by the Iraqi Border Guard, demanding its cessation. Faiq Ali, a member of the Kawta village council, voiced the community’s opposition, stating, “The Iraqi Border Guard’s decision to erect a fence along the Iran-Iraq border, from Khanaqin to Tawella and Biyara, is seen as an infringement on our land and lives, given our centuries-old presence in these areas without issue.” Ali highlighted the detrimental effect on livestock farming due to restrictions caused by the border that splits animal habitats in half, and questioned the need for a physical barrier given the presence of surveillance cameras.

The village council has appealed to Iraqi authorities and the Kurdistan Regional Government to stop the project, noting the natural border already established by the flow of the Sirwan River between Iraq and Iran.

Iraq MP Chro Hamah Sharif, who was attending the protest, said a letter had been sent to Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani. The letter demands that the new border designation not adversely affect local villagers and called for additional investigations before finalizing the border arrangements.

Kurdish parliamentarian in Baghdad, Karwan Yarwayis, told 964media that the prime minister had ordered the halt in response to their petition on Feb. 28 until Kurdish land disputes could be resolved. Despite the reported order to halt the process, construction is still ongoing.

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