ANKARA (AP): Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday rejected accusations that the country’s military carried out deadly artillery strikes against tourists in northern Iraq, as the Iraqi families of those killed laid their dead to rest.
In an in an interview with Turkish state broadcaster TRT, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was willing to cooperate with Iraqi authorities to shed light on the “treacherous attack.”
“According to the information we received from the Turkish Armed Forces, we did not conduct any attack against civilians,” Cavusoglu said. “Our fight in Iraq has always been against the (banned Kurdistan Workers Party) PKK terrorist organization.”
“We reject the accusations that have been leveled against Turkey before the smoke screen has been lifted,” Cavusoglu said, adding that Turkey believed the attack was aimed at preventing Turkish military operations in the region.
“Iraqi authorities must not fall into this trap,” he said.
Caskets carrying the bodies of those killed in artillery strikes on Wednesday were transported from the semi-autonomous Kurdish-run northern region to the capital Baghdad for burial. At least four artillery shells struck the resort area of Barakh in the Zakho district in the Kurdish region.
Iraq’s military said eight people were killed in the attack, but nine caskets were loaded onto the military plane on Thursday. Over 20 people were wounded.
The region’s President Nechirvan Barzani laid a wreath over one casket and helped carry it on board the military plane. Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein was also present.
In Baghdad, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi received the dead at the airport and met with the families of those killed, according to a statement from his office. He offered his condolences and promised to follow up on their condition and of the wounded, providing them with medical care.
All of the casualties were Iraqi citizens. A small child was among the victims.
The incident is testing ties between Iraq and Turkey — two countries that share deep economic ties but are divided over security issues related to Kurdish insurgents operating in Iraq, oil trading with the Kurdish region and water-sharing.
The Turkish Embassy in Iraq announced on its Facebook page that visa appointments had been cancelled for the day. A small protest broke out in the former headquarters of the Turkish mission in the Baghdad neighborhood of Waziriah.
The Iraqi government, which condemned the attack as “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” convened an emergency national security meeting, summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad and ordered a pause in dispatching a new Iraqi ambassador to Ankara.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi accused Turkey of ignoring “Iraq’s continuous demands to refrain from military violations against Iraqi territory and the lives of its people.”
Cavusoglu said Turkey had offered to bring the wounded to Turkey for treatment.
Turkey regularly carries out airstrikes into northern Iraq and has sent commandos to support its offensives targeting elements of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party or PKK.
Wednesday’s attack marked the first time that tourists had been killed in the frequent attacks by Turkey in the area, the officials said. Turkish strikes in the area are common and have killed civilians, mostly local villagers, there before.
In April, Turkey launched its latest offensive, named Operation Claw Lock, in parts of northern Iraq – part of a series of cross-border operations started in 2019 to combat the outlawed PKK who are based in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq.
The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, and has led an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984 which has killed tens of thousands of people.
Ankara has pressed Baghdad to root out PKK elements from the northern region. Iraq, in turn, has said Turkey’s ongoing attacks are in breach of its sovereignty.
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