Turkey told to withdraw troops over Iraq holiday resort attack

Anger mounts over deadly bombing that claimed eight civilian lives at a tourist destination in the north

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Iraq has demanded that Turkey withdraw its troops from the country and stopped plans to appoint an ambassador in Ankara, accusing the Turkish army of a deadly artillery attack on a popular tourist destination in the country’s north.

“Turkey has disregarded the Iraqi demands to stop the violations against our sovereignty and the security of our citizens, and to respect the principle of good neighbourliness,” Iraq’s National Security Council said.

"We ask Turkey to offer an official apology and withdraw its military troops from all Iraqi territories."

Iraqis protest against Turkey's military offensive outside a Turkish visa centre in the central city of Karbala. AFP

The council held an emergency session on Wednesday night, shortly after nine people were killed and 28 others wounded in Dohuk province in the Kurdistan region.

Dohuk governor Ali Tatar said on Thursday that the bodies of the victims would be flown to Baghdad from Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region.

The victims – three men, three women and two children — were reported to be from southern Iraq and were on a holiday in the Barkh resort.

The mountainous area is often the target of Turkish military campaigns aimed at hideouts belonging to militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey has established, without the consent of the federal government in Baghdad, several military posts in the Kurdistan region since 1990s, including a military base in the town of Bashiqa after the takeover of Mosul by ISIS extremists in 2014. There is no official tally of the number of Turkish troops in Iraq but some Kurdish and Iraqi media outlets estimate there are about 250.

Turkey says the troops are in Iraq only to fight PKK fighters, accusing the militants of carrying out cross-border operations and bombings against Turkish troops.

Ankara says its military posts and troops are in the region in co-ordination with the Kurdish authorities.

Iraqi officials said on Wednesday that at least four shells hit the holiday area in the city of Zakho, which is a few kilometres from the border with Turkey.

The National Security Council said it had instructed troops on the border with Turkey to “take all necessary measures for self defence”.

“We have decided to recall the Iraqi charge d'affaires for consultation, stop the appointment of a new [Iraqi] ambassador to Turkey and make an urgent complaint to the UN Security Council,” the NSC said.

“Iraq will not allow using its territories as a launchpad for attacks against any country, or to be the scene for settling scores. Iraq flatly rejects the presence of any terrorist or militant organisation on its territories.”

Turkey has denied responsibility for the attack and called for a joint investigation with the Iraqi government.

It claimed that forces belonging to the PKK were behind the attacks.

But the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the armed wing of the PKK, said in a statement carried by Kurdish news website Rudaw that it did not have any of its fighters in the area of the attack, which it blamed on the Turkish army.

The PKK is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU after a series of bombings and attacks against civilians in south-east Turkey during more than four decades of conflict. A ceasefire between the PKK and Turkey broke down in 2015 after two and a half years.

Turkey also views Kurdish-led militant and political groups in Syria as affiliated to the PKK.

Turkey has launched military operations and air raids on PKK strongholds in the mountains of northern Iraq for years, and is threatening to carry out a fourth incursion into north-east Syria.

Civilian casualties in northern Iraq have been reported and documented in several attacks in recent years.

On Wednesday night, Iraqis posted their photos and videos on social media as they burnt Turkish flags in the cities of Baghdad, Karbala and Nasiriyah.

Iraqi anti-riot police lined up outside the Turkish embassy as protesters gathered late at night, chanting against Turkey and asking their government for decisive action in response to the attack.

Attack condemned around the world

Wednesday’s attack drew strong international condemnation on Thursday.

The attack also stoked tensions in Iraq as an Iran-backed militia group claimed to have attacked Turkish forces in the north and protesters surrounded the Turkish embassy in Baghdad.

Some of the strongest condemnation came from the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who has in the past come under political attack for tolerating the presence of Turkish forces in the Kurdish-majority north.

Iraq reserves the "right to retaliate,” Mr Al Kadhimi warned Turkey. Other Iraqi politicians and Iraq’s foreign ministry used softer language, saying the issue would be raised at the UN Security Council. Iraq’s ministry of culture also said Iraqis must not travel to Turkey and visas were no longer being issued amid a protest outside the Turkish visa application office in Baghdad.

Safeen Dizayee, the head of the Kurdish Regional Government’s department of foreign relations, said Turkey should be involved in a joint investigation. Mr Al Kadhimi has already sent a team from the federal government to investigate the attack.

Next week, the Iraqi Parliament will hold an “urgent session” to discuss the presence of Turkish forces, who mainly operate from a base at Bashiqa, around 65 kilometres from Erbil.

Meanwhile, Iraqi paramilitary groups linked to Iran appeared to try and capitalise on public anger.

Iran-backed militia Ashab Al Kahf, which has claimed attacks on Turkish and US forces in recent years, said on Thursday it had attacked two Turkish positions with drones. The Turkish military made no comment on the attacks or whether there were casualties.

Iran-linked militias have previously launched attacks against US military and diplomatic targets in the Kurdish region, as well as Turkish forces.

In Tehran, the foreign ministry spokesman said: "Iran considers the security of Iraq as its own security and will not hesitate to provide any assistance in this regard".

In Baghdad, loudspeakers blared out patriotic songs as protesters chanted slogans demanding the expulsion of the Turkish ambassador, having gathered outside Turkey’s visa office, an AFP journalist reported.

Protesters brandished portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labelled "terrorist" and trampled Turkish flags underfoot.

"We want to burn down the embassy. The ambassador must be expelled," said demonstrator Ali Yassin, 53. "Our government is doing nothing."

There were similar protests on Wednesday night in the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala and in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

Among the dead was Abbas Alaa, 24, an engineer married for barely a week, said a friend who gave his name as Nour.

Alaa was on his honeymoon — his first-ever trip, Nour said — and his wife was wounded.

"We can't believe it," said Nour who waited with other friends at a modest Baghdad home for relatives to return with his corpse.

"This doesn't happen in any other country, only Iraq."

International condemnation continued to pour in on Wednesday. Germany said it placed great importance on the “respect for Iraq’s state sovereignty and upholding international law.”

US Ambassador to Iraq Alina L Romanowski said the “killing of civilians is unacceptable, and all states must respect their obligations under international law, including obligations under international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians.”

Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office released a statement to “express our support for the Iraqi authorities in their investigations,"

Iraq and Turkey are trade partners but Ankara's successive offensives against PKK rear bases in the north have been a persistent source of tension in relations, particularly when they have caused civilian casualties.

Updated: July 22, 2022, 2:54 AM
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