Iraq Accuses Turkey of Attack on Tourist Area, Killing Eight People

BAGHDAD—Iraq accused Turkey of carrying out an artillery attack on a popular tourist destination in the country’s mountainous north, killing eight people in an area where Ankara has conducted a decadeslong military campaign targeting Kurdish militants.

At least four shells struck the vacation area near the town of Dohuk in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region on Wednesday, Iraqi officials said. The dead were all young—four boys and four girls—and 28 other people were wounded, including three in critical condition, authorities said. Iraqis flock to the area with their families to escape the summer heat.

Turkey regularly targets the Kurdistan Workers’ Party—a group viewed as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S.—striking the group’s hide-outs in northern Iraq. The group, known by its initials PKK, has waged a decadeslong insurgency against the Turkish state, part of what it says is a battle for a Kurdish homeland.

American troops began withdrawing from the Syria-Turkey border, marking a major shift in U.S. policy as Washington pulls back from a key partner in the fight against Islamic State—the Kurds—ahead of a Turkish offensive against them. Photo: Delil Souleiman/Getty Images

Iraqi officials called Wednesday’s attack one of the deadliest since Ankara launched its latest offensive in the area in April, adding that they had filed a formal complaint with the United Nations Security Council.

“We are investigating the reports but the initial inquiry says we do not confirm the allegations,” a Turkish Defense Ministry offical said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed “deep sorrow” over the attack in a statement. “We wish Allah’s mercy upon those who lost their lives, [and] extend our condolences to the relatives of the deceased,” the ministry said.

Ankara also called on Iraq to cooperate in identifying “the real perpetrators.”

A video said to be of the aftermath of the attack, released by the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, a Baghdad-based nongovernmental organization, showed screaming parents in vacation clothes running from the scene carrying children in bathing suits.

The shelling came as Turkish officials are threatening to launch a new military operation against Kurdish-led militias in northeast Syria, where Turkey has a military presence. U.S. officials have warned Ankara against new attacks in Syria against Kurdish forces.

The U.S. views the Kurdish-led forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a partner in the fight against Islamic State. Turkey views the SDF as a Syrian offshoot of the PKK. But in Iraq, Turkey has a much freer hand to conduct military operations against what it contends are PKK fighters.

The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said it “strongly condemns” the attack but stopped short of attributing it to Turkey. “Civilians are once again suffering the indiscriminate effects of explosive weapons,” it said in a statement that urged “all parties to cease these violations without delay.”

Iraqi Prime Minister

Mustafa al-Kadhimi

called it a “brutal attack” and said Turkey had “ignored Iraq’s continuous demands to refrain from military violations against Iraqi territory and the lives of its people.”

After an emergency meeting of the national security council, Mr. Khadimi said that Iraq was recalling it’s charge d’affairs from Turkey, summoning the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to a meeting and demanding an apology.

In recent years, Turkey has broadened its offensive against the PKK’s bases and training camps in the jagged mountains of northern Iraq, pushing deeper into Iraqi territory and expanding the Turkish military’s presence on the ground there.

The tempo of the conflict is accelerating. Last year, there was an average of more than 200 violent incidents a month in the conflict, mostly Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. Turkey launched 1,200 airstrikes on northern Iraq in 2021 alone, a higher rate than any time in the past six years.

Nechirvan Barzani, head of the Kurdistan region, condemned the attack. He called upon Turkey and the PKK to “stop their clashes,” which resulted in the death of civilians.

Turkish military leaders are aiming to weaken the militant group after more than 40 years of intermittent war. The conflict has unfurled from the mountains of northern Iraq to the cities of Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast, to Istanbul, where the PKK has carried out bombings targeting security forces as recently as 2016.

Northern Iraq has seen a surge in attacks this year, not only from Turkish forces but from Iran and Iraqi militias that have targeted a natural gas field, an airport, a private residence and other facilities, according to the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Write to David S. Cloud at [email protected]

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