BAGHDAD ( Associated Press) — Hundreds of angry Iraqis took to the streets late Thursday night after the government called on Turkey to stop deadly attacks on an Iraqi tourist destination the previous day. The protests broke out just hours after the families of those killed in the shelling buried their loved ones.
Turkey’s foreign minister dismissed allegations that his country’s military launched an attack on the Zakho district of Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region on Wednesday. At least eight Iraqis, including a child, were killed and 20 wounded.
Turkey frequently conducts air strikes and strikes in northern Iraq and sends commandos to support its attacks targeting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. In Ankara, the rebels, who have been fighting the government for decades, have their bases in mountainous Iraqi territory. And although civilians, mostly local villagers, have been killed in the past, Wednesday’s attack marked the first time that tourists traveling north from elsewhere in Iraq were killed.
Speaking with Turkish state broadcaster TRT, Foreign Minister Mevlut Kavusoglu said Turkey was willing to cooperate with Iraqi authorities to shed light on the “treacherous attack”. He offered to bring the injured to Turkey for treatment.
Protests outside the Turkish embassy in Baghdad’s Waziria neighborhood first began peacefully but later escalated. Some in the crowd carried signs that read: “Turkey’s attack on civilians is a crime against humanity.”
Others pelted stones at the riot police and burnt tyres. At one point, clashes began when some protesters tried to replace the Turkish flag, which was still flying, over the building with an Iraqi one.
Several protesters were injured when the police threw back some stones thrown at them. The Turkish embassy, which moved last year to the heavily fortified green zone, canceled visa appointments for the day.
Earlier on Thursday, Iraq’s government summoned the Turkish ambassador to protest and coffins carrying the bodies of the victims were taken to Baghdad for burial from the semi-autonomous Kurdish-run northern region.
Before the flight, Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the Iraqi Kurdish region, laid a wreath on a coffin and helped transport it to a military plane.
At Baghdad airport, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi welcomed the dead and met with the families of those killed, offering his condolences. He promised that the injured would be looked after.
Differences remain over how many people died in Wednesday’s attack. Iraq’s military said eight people had died but nine coffins were loaded into military aircraft on Thursday.
Turkey’s top diplomat Cavusoglu claimed the attack was a “smokescreen” aimed at “stopping Turkish military operations in the area”.
“We have not launched any attacks against civilians,” he said, and stressed that Turkey’s “fight in Iraq has always been against the PKK”.
Meanwhile, mourners carried the coffin of 30-year-old Iraqi Abbas Abdul Hussein, who was killed in Zakho. Hussein had just married five days earlier, his cousin Saeed Alawadi said, calling on the government to “start preventive measures against Turkey”, even cutting all political and economic ties. .
The attack brought the spotlight to Turkey’s ongoing military operations against Turkish Kurdish rebels 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 over other issues, including the independent oil field and water-sharing of the Kurdish region. But after the attack, anger against Turkey is increasing on Iraqi streets.
In April, Turkey launched its latest offensive in northern Iraq, part of a series of cross-border operations that began in 2019 to counter the PKK.
The Iraqi government condemned Wednesday’s attack as a “gross violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”, called an emergency national security meeting and ordered a halt to the sending of Iraq’s new ambassador to Ankara.
Iraq’s parliament was also to be convened on Saturday to discuss the Turkish attack. Al-Kadhimi accused Turkey of “ignoring Iraq’s continued demands to avoid military violations against Iraqi territory and the lives of its people.”
The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has led an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984, which has killed thousands.
Ankara has pressured Baghdad to root out the PKK from Kurdish territory. In return, Iraq has said that Turkey’s ongoing attacks are a violation of its sovereignty.
Associated Press writer Suzanne Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.