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Turkey rejects blame for deadly Iraq shelling

July 21, 2022

Iraqi officials have blamed Turkey for an airstrike on the Kurdistan region that killed at least eight tourists. But Turkey has denied involvement in the shelling, blaming it on "terrorism."

A medic carries away the body of a victim after shelling of a tourist resort in northern Iraq
Officials said the victims died before reaching a hospitalImage: Ismael Adnan/dpa/picture alliance

Artillery shelling on Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan killed at least eight civilians and wounded 20 others, local officials said on Wednesday, blaming the attack on Turkey.

The "fierce artillery bombing" hit a tourist resort in Zakho, a city on the border between Iraq's Kurdistan region and Turkey, state TV said.

The Kurdish health minister said children, including a 1-year-old, were among the victims, adding that they all died before reaching a hospital. All the victims were Iraqi tourists from other regions. 

Witnesses spoke of horror as tour groups were vacationing in the area at the time of the attack. 

Iraq points finger at Turkey

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi condemned the harm caused to "the life and security of Iraqi citizens" and reserved Iraq's right to retaliate.

Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad over the attack. Iraq also said it was recalling its charge d'affaires from Ankara and demanded an official apology from Turkey along with "the withdrawal of its armed forces from all Iraqi territory."

"Turkish forces have perpetrated once more a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty," al-Kadhimi said on Twitter.

Al-Kadhimi's office said the Iraqi armed forces were holding an emergency meeting to discuss "the repercussions of the Turkish aggression."

Turkey regularly carries out strikes on the Kurdistan region as part of its long-running crackdown on the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.

Turkey denies involvement

The Turkish Foreign Ministry referred to the airstrike as a "terror attack" and expressed condolences to Iraq. 

Ankara went on to urge Iraqi officials to avoid making statements influenced by "terrorist organization propaganda," an apparent reference to the PKK. 

The ministry added that Turkey was ready to cooperate in investigating the attack.

An earlier statement from Turkey's Defense Ministry said two Kurdish militants had surrendered to a Turkish security point at the Habur border crossing, about 10 kilometers (16 miles) from Zakho — but made no mention of the shelling. 

General Mohammed al-Bayati, secretary of Iraqi prime minister
Iraqi officials blamed the shelling on Turkey Image: Ismael Adnan/AFP

Germany calls for probe

On Thursday, the German Foreign Ministry called for an investigation into the incident. 

"There must urgently be light shed on the circumstances of the attack and those responsible," the ministry said in a statement.

"The German government assigns great importance to respect for Iraq's state sovereignty and international law."

UN, US emphasize Iraqi sovereignty

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq called for a "thorough investigation" and urged "all parties" to cease violations. 

"Civilians are once again suffering the indiscriminate effects of explosive weapons," it said in a statement, adding that it "emphasizes that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq must be respected at all times."

The US State Department also echoed the UN office, saying: "We reaffirm our position that military action in Iraq should respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Washington also emphasizes "the importance of ensuring civilians are protected," while refusing to further comment on the matter. 

Turkey's offensive in northern Iraq

Turkey launched a new offensive in northern Iraq in April against the PKK. Ankara justified the operation by saying it was protecting itself against terrorist attacks and it had the right to self-defense.

The EU and the US also list the PKK as a terrorist organization.

The group has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The PKK's presence in the region has hampered vital trade relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, while Ankara's military operations have complicated its relations with Baghdad.

Turkey has also extended its crackdown to the broader Kurdish movement in Turkey itself, including the imprisonment of political leaders and the attempted ban of the People's Democratic Party (HDP)

Kurds in Sweden fear crackdown, extradition

fb/dj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)