Geopolitics Military Affairs

Bagdad accuses Turkey of an artillery attack that killed nine civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan

Dáša Židuliaková

Iraq accused neighbouring Turkey of a deadly attack on the Barakh tourist resort in the  Governorate of Dohuk in Iraq´s autonomous Kurdish region last Wednesday, July 20. 9 civilians have been killed, including women and children and dozens have been wounded after four missiles hit the water park. The victims included Iraqi tourists who had come to a resort near the Kurdish city of Zakho, in the country´s far north, to escape the scorching heat in southern Iraq. 

While the Iraqi government usually does not react to Turkish attacks on its soil, the recent deadly attack strained relations between Ankara and Bagdad. Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi warned Turkey that Bagdad “reserves its full right to retaliate” against these attacks and “will take all necessary measures to protect its people”, calling the artillery strikes on its citizens an “explicit and blatant violation of the sovereignty of Iraq”. Iraq has summoned Turkey´s ambassador to demand an official apology along with “the withdrawal of its armed forces from all Iraqi territory”. The Iraqi government has recalled back its chargé d´affaire in Ankara for consultation. The Turkish Foreign Ministry, however, denied any responsibility suggesting that the attack was an act of terrorism and invited Iraqi government officials not to make statements influenced by “terrorist propaganda”.

Turkish forces regularly carry out air strikes in northern Iraq, targeting the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies. The attack came just one day after Turkish President Erdoğan met with his Iranian and Russian counterparts in Tehran to win backing for a further invasion into northeastern Syria. In a joint press conference, the Turkish president clearly expressed that Turkey did not see any difference between terrorist organisations Daesh, PKK and PYD and was determined to “drive out the centres of evil” from Syria and Iraq that threaten Turkey´s national security. The area is only a few kilometres from the Turkish border and has been declared a military zone since the attack. It´s also a place where the Turkish troops have maintained several military bases and outposts. The latest offensive against the party was launched in April called “Operation Claw-Lock”. According to the Kurdistan Regional Government, clashes between Turkish forces and PKK fighters in the border areas of the Kurdistan Region have become a constant threat to the lives and wellbeing of its citizens.

The recent attack sparked anti-Turkey protests across the country and has forged some rare unity in the country. Iraqi protesters rallied outside Turkey´s embassy in Bagdad. They also gathered in front of a Turkish visa office in Karbala, Basra, Najaf and Nasiriyah, burning a Turkish flag and calling on the government to expel the Turkish forces from Iraq. The Iraqi government has opened an investigation and attempted to raise the issue with the international community by submitting an official complaint to the UN Security Council, saying it violates its national sovereignty and is a threat to its national security. 

Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, has complicated relations with the PKK as its presence in the region hampers vital trade relations with neighbouring Turkey. According to many observers, there is little chance that the fragile Iraqi state, which has been stuck in a political deadlock and unable to form a government since the October legislative elections, will impose its will on Turkey. Declarations of Iraq´s political authorities are “a question of display to gain popularity on a national scale and occupy privileged positions in the future Iraqi government”. But in fact, the Turkish military presence in Iraq will face no consequences. “The Iraqi State does not have the objective means to demand the withdrawal of the Turkish army from Iraqi Kurdistan”. 

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