Turkey denies carrying out deadly strikes in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday rejected accusations that his country’s military carried out deadly strikes on tourists in northern Iraq the previous day, as families of the killed Iraqis buried their loved ones and Baghdad took steps to put pressure on Ankara.

Speaking with Turkish state broadcaster TRT, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was willing to cooperate with Iraqi authorities to shed light on the “treacherous attack.”

Iraq’s government summoned Turkey’s ambassador...

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday rejected accusations that his country’s military carried out deadly strikes on tourists in northern Iraq the previous day, as families of the killed Iraqis buried their loved ones and Baghdad took steps to put pressure on Ankara.

Speaking with Turkish state broadcaster TRT, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was willing to cooperate with Iraqi authorities to shed light on the “treacherous attack.”

Iraq’s government summoned Turkey’s ambassador in protest and the parliament called a session to discuss the Turkish attack. Caskets carrying the bodies of victims were flown from the semi-autonomous Kurdish-run northern region to the Iraqi capital for burial.

The region’s president, Nechirvan Barzani, laid a wreath on one of the caskets and helped carry it onto a military plane. At the Baghdad airport, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi received the dead and met with the families of those killed, offering his condolences. He promised the wounded would be taken care of.

All of the casualties were Iraqis; a child was among those killed. Cavusoglu offered to bring the wounded to Turkey for medical treatment.

There remained a discrepancy over the number of those killed in Wednesday’s attack on a tourist resort in the district of Zakho: Iraq’s military said eight people died but nine caskets were loaded onto the military plane. Over 20 people were also wounded.

Turkey denied it was behind the attack, and Cavusoglu claimed it was a “smokescreen” aimed “at preventing Turkish military operations in the region.”

“We did not conduct any attack against civilians,” he said and insisted that Turkey’s “fight in Iraq has always been against” the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

In Baghdad, mourners carried the coffin of Abbas Abdul Hussein, a 30-year-old Iraqi who was among those killed in Zakho.

Hussein had just gotten married five days earlier, his cousin Said Alawadi said, demanding the government “initiate deterrent measures against Turkey by shutting down the embassy, cutting trade, political and economic relations.”

The attack catapulted into the spotlight Turkey’s ongoing military operations against Turkey’s Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq — an issue that has long divided Iraqi officials. With deep economic ties between the two countries, many hesitate to damage relations with Ankara.

Baghdad and Ankara are also divided on other issues, including the Kurdish region’s independent oil sector and water-sharing. But in the aftermath of the attack, anger against Turkey is mounting on the Iraqi street.

Dozens of protesters gathered in the neighborhood of Waziriah, outside a building that formerly housed the Turkish mission in Baghdad, holding signs that said: “Turkey’s attacks on civilians is a crime against humanity.”

The Turkish Embassy in Iraq cancelled visa appointments for the day.

Turkey frequently carries out airstrikes into northern Iraq and has sent commandos to support its offensives targeting the PKK, which has bases in the mountainous region. And though civilians, mostly local villagers, have been killed in the past, Wednesday’s attack marked the first time that tourists visiting the north from elsewhere in Iraq were killed.

In April, Turkey launched its latest offensive in northern Iraq, part of a series of cross-border operations that started in 2019 to combat the PKK.

The Iraqi government condemned Wednesday’s attack as a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” convened an emergency national security meeting and ordered a pause in dispatching Iraq’s new ambassador to Ankara. Also Thursday, the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad summoned Turkey’s ambassador and handed over a “protest note.”

Parliament was to convene on Saturday to discuss the Turkish attack. Al-Kadhimi accused Turkey of ignoring “Iraq’s continuous demands to refrain from military violations against Iraqi territory and the lives of its people.”

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has led an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984 that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Ankara has pressed Baghdad to root out the PKK from the Kurdish region. Iraq, in turn, has said Turkey’s ongoing attacks are a breach of its sovereignty.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

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