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A Turkish attack on a tourist area in Iraqi Kurdistan strains relations between Ankara and Baghdad

At least nine Iraqi tourists have been killed in the attack. Turkey denies the accusations and points the finger at the PKK. Iraq, for its part, demands that Ankara withdraw "its military forces" from the country
Personal sanitario transporta el cuerpo de una víctima tras un bombardeo turco en la ciudad de Zakho, en el norte de la región autónoma del Kurdistán iraquí, el 20 de julio de 2022 AFP/ISMAEL ADNAN

AFP/ISMAEL ADNAN  -   Health workers carry the body of a victim after a Turkish bombing in the town of Zakho in the northern autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, 20 July 2022

A diplomatic rift has opened up between Turkey and Iraq after a Turkish attack killed at least nine people, including children, in Zakho in the north of the country. Among the dead were several Iraqi tourists from cities such as Kerbala and the capital Baghdad itself, as the attack targeted a resort in the mountainous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

"Turkish artillery fire in the tourist region of Parakh killed eight people and wounded 23," Mushir Bashir, head of the Zakho region, told a local radio station shortly after the attack. "Turkey attacked the town twice," Bashir told AFP. 

Fuerzas de seguridad frente a un hospital tras un ataque turco, en Zakho, Irak, el 20 de julio de 2022 REUTERS/ARI JALAL
REUTERS/ARI JALAL - Security forces outside a hospital after the Turkish attack

Officials in Baghdad have also condemned the brutal Turkish attack. Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi warned that Iraq reserves the "right to retaliate" and will apply "all necessary measures to protect its citizens". "Turkish forces have once again perpetrated another flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty," Al-Kadhemi said in a statement. President Barham Saleh called the "Turkish bombardment" "a violation of the country's sovereignty and a threat to national security".

The powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - winner of the October elections - was among the first to denounce the attack, suggesting that Iraq suspend diplomatic relations with Ankara

El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores iraquí, Fuad Hussei, se dirige a la prensa tras visitar a los heridos por los bombardeos turcos en un hospital de la ciudad de Zakho, en el norte de la región autónoma del Kurdistán iraquí, a última hora del 20 de julio de 2022 AFP/ISMAEL ADNAN
AFP/ISMAEL ADNAN - Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussei addresses the press after visiting those injured by Turkish shelling at a hospital in the town of Zakho

The Iraqi authorities have also demanded that Turkey officially apologise and withdraw "its military forces" from Iraqi territory and declared Thursday a day of national mourning for the victims of the attack. The Iraqi government has sent a delegation to the affected area headed by Foreign Minister Faud Hussein to investigate what happened. 

The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Executive has also coordinated with Baghdad to investigate the attack, Kurdish Prime Minister Masruour Barzani himself announced on Twitter. Barzani also condemned the Turkish aggression and the violence unleashed by "infighting between Turkey and the PKK". "This has happened too often and must stop," the Kurdish leader stressed.

Turkey denies accusations and points the finger at the PKK

It is precisely the PKK that Turkey accuses of being behind the attack. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assures that the country "is against all types of attacks against civilians" and points out that they are organised "by the terrorist organisation", referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish group considered terrorist by Turkey, as well as by some Western countries. For this reason, the Turkish authorities have called on their Iraqi counterparts not to make statements influenced by "terrorist propaganda", again alluding to the PKK. 

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reaffirmed Turkey's position during an interview with Turkish state broadcaster TRT. The head of Turkish diplomacy offered to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities to reveal more details about the "treacherous attack" which, according to Cavusoglu, is aimed at preventing Turkish military operations in the region. He added that the Defence Ministry had "no information confirming artillery fire in the area". 

The Turkish armed forces have carried out numerous operations in northern Iraq, as well as in Syria, aimed at neutralising PKK "terrorists". Operation Claw-Lock, for example, is a mission that Ankara launched in April and is still ongoing in order to "prevent terrorist attacks and ensure border security", according to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar. Shortly after Turkey launched the operation, Iraq called it a "violation of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity". Baghdad accused Ankara of failing to warn it in advance of the mission targeting Iraqi national territory. 

irak turquia
AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - Iraqi protesters step on a Turkish national flag in front of the Turkish visa office in Baghdad on July 21, 2022, during a demonstration against an attack on the country's autonomous Kurdistan region blamed on Turkey
Turkish attack provokes anger in Iraq

Despite Turkey's denial of the accusations and its involvement in the attack, Iraqi political authorities have already taken action against Ankara. First, the Iraqi government has recalled its chargé d'affaires in Turkey and summoned the Turkish ambassador. Baghdad has also decided to suspend the process of appointing a new ambassador to Ankara and is preparing a condemnation to be presented to the UN Security Council, according to the state news agency INA.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, for the time being, has called for a "thorough investigation" and urged "all parties" to cease violations. The UN, like the US and other Western countries, has also called for respect for Iraq's "sovereignty and territorial integrity"

As the government took action against Turkey for the brutal attack, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest against the bombing and to show their rejection of Ankara's expansionist policies. The most tense moments were near the Turkish embassy, where Iraqi citizens burned Turkish flags and even removed the national flag from the building.

Las fuerzas de seguridad iraquíes montan guardia frente a la oficina de visados turca en Bagdad el 21 de julio de 2022 durante una manifestación contra un ataque a la región autónoma del Kurdistán del país atribuido a Turquía AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - Iraqi security forces stand guard in front of the Turkish visa office in Baghdad on July 21, 2022, during a demonstration against an attack on the country's autonomous Kurdistan region attributed to Turkey

"We want to burn the embassy, the ambassador must be expelled," a 53-year-old protester told AFP as patriotic songs and anti-Turkish slogans rang out. "Our government is doing nothing," he added.

This attack came shortly after the tripartite meeting in Tehran between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi. In the Iranian capital, the Turkish president also met with Ayatollah Khamenei, seeking support for the imminent incursion he is preparing in northeastern Syria. The Iranian supreme leader, by contrast, refused to give his blessing to the Turkish plans, warning that the new invasion 'would benefit the terrorists'.