Iraq dismisses Turkey’s denial of responsibility for resort attack as ‘sick joke’

Baghdad insists that Ankara was behind the deadly shelling of tourist resort in the north

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Iraq rejected Turkey’s denial of responsibility for the deadly artillery attack on an Iraqi tourist resort as families of the victims buried their loved ones on Thursday.

“The Iraqi state's narrative confirms that Ankara is behind the attack, which is not the first and comes in a series of continuous attacks,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Al Sahhaf said on Thursday.

“Turkey's denial of responsibility is a sick joke that Iraqi diplomacy will not accept.”

Turkey rejected accusations that its military fired four shells at Zakho, a town in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, on Wednesday. Nine Iraqis were killed, including two children, while 23 others were wounded.

“According to the information we received from the Turkish Armed Forces, we did not carry out any attack against civilians,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

He pledged that Turkey would “co-operate with the Iraqi authorities after the treacherous attack that we believe was carried out by terrorist groups”.

Turkey said its troops were in Iraq only to counter Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters, who it accuses of carrying out cross-border attacks on Turkish troops.

Iraq's National Security Council on Wednesday demanded that Turkey withdraw its troops from northern Iraq after holding an emergency session chaired by Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi.

Turkey has launched military operations and air raids on PKK strongholds in the mountains of northern Iraq for years.

It has established several military posts in the Kurdistan region since the 1990s without the consent of the federal government in Baghdad, including a military base in the town of Bashiqa after the takeover of Mosul by ISIS extremists in 2014.

Ankara said its troops were deployed in co-ordination with authorities in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

Mr Al Sahhaf disputed Turkey's justifications for its military presence in northern Iraq.

“What Turkey says, that there is an old agreement that allows it to send its troops to Iraqi territories, is incorrect as there is only a record of a meeting that Ankara held with the previous regime and the record, however, obliges it to request the permission of the Iraqi government and that the incursion does not exceed five kilometres, and they did not abide by the same record,” he said.

Since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, successive Iraqi governments have accused the Turkish army of carrying out ground attacks up to 60km within Iraq’s territory in the north.

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

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 has urged the Iraqi government and people not to listen to what it called PKK propaganda.

More than words

New protests over the attack broke out after the funerals of the victims on Thursday.

The coffins of the dead, draped in Iraqi national flags and festooned with flowers, were flown to Baghdad from Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region.

Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and Kurdish Regional President Nechirvan Barzani led the pallbearers carrying the smallest of the coffins, a child's, on to the military plane in Erbil.

An honour guard carried the coffins at a ceremony attended by Mr Al Kadhimi on the tarmac of Baghdad's airport.

Riot police face off against protesters outside the Turkish consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Thursday. AFP

Protesters outside the Turkish embassy in Baghdad called on the Iraqi government to do more than issue statements condemning the attack.

They brandished portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that called him a “terrorist” and trampled on Turkish flags.

There were calls on Iraqi social media accounts to boycott Turkish products.

Bilateral trade in 2021 stood at $19.5 billion. Iraq became Turkey's fifth-largest export market in 2021, according to the website of the Turkish foreign ministry.

Updated: July 22, 2022, 8:59 AM
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