February 4, 2023

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi declared a day of national mourning on Thursday after nine civilians were killed in an attack on a Kurdish hilltop village he blamed on neighboring Turkey. Ankara has denied responsibility for the attack.

The coffins of the nine dead, draped with Iraqi national flags and decorated with flowers, were put aboard a flight to Baghdad from the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil by an honor guard led by top officials.

According to reporters, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and Kurdish Regional President Nechirvan Barzani led the corpse bearers carrying the smallest coffin, a child, to the military plane.

In Baghdad, the bodies would be handed over to their families for burial.

The deaths in a village pleasure garden prompted several dozen angry protesters to protest outside the Turkish visa office in Baghdad early Thursday, despite a heavy police presence.

Loudspeakers blared patriotic songs as protesters chanted slogans demanding the expulsion of the Turkish ambassador, an AFP journalist reported.

“We want to burn down the embassy. The ambassador has to leave the country,” said protester Ali Yassin, 53. “Our government is not doing anything.”

In an unusually strong reprimand, Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhemi has warned Turkey that Baghdad reserves the “right of reprisal” and called the artillery fire a “blatant violation” of sovereignty – a line echoed by Iraq’s Kurdish government.

Iraq said it was withdrawing its chargé d’affaires from Ankara and summoning the Turkish ambassador, demanding an official apology from Turkey along with “the withdrawal of its forces from all Iraqi territory”.

However, Turkey has rejected claims that it was responsible for the deadly attack in northern Iraq.

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Turkey regularly carries out airstrikes in northern Iraq and has sent commandos to support its offensives as part of a long-running campaign in Iraq and Syria against Kurdish PKK militants and the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia. Ankara considers both terrorist groups.

‘It is not right to blame Turkey’

In an interview with Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the military had informed him it was not responsible for the attack.

“The whole world knows that we would never attack civilians,” Cavusoglu said.

Cavusoglu said the reports blaming Turkey for the attack were attempts by the PKK to hinder Ankara’s counter-terrorism efforts.

“After this attack, which we believe was committed by the terrorist organization (PKK), we are ready to hold talks with Iraqi officials. We can work together to lift the fog curtain. Until that is lifted, it is not right to blame Turkey,” he said.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have died in the conflict, which in the past has mainly centered in southeastern Turkey, where the PKK tried to create an ethnic homeland.

For the past 25 years, the Turkish military has maintained dozens of outposts in Iraq’s Kurdish north as part of its campaign against the rebels. There have been sporadic calls for their removal.

Iraq and Turkey are important trading partners, but Ankara’s successive offensives against the PKK’s rear bases in the north have been a persistent thorn in relations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and Reuters)