At least nine civilians were killed and dozens of others were wounded after rockets were fired reportedly by the Turkish military towards a number of tourist sites in the Duhok Governorate of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on Wednesday.
Videos reportedly from the scene showed people running and screaming as explosions could be heard in the background. Additional footage showed injured people laying in the back of trucks, as well as large crowds outside local hospitals.
Turkish killing of tourists a major escalation
In the summer heat it is common for many Iraqis to vacation in the stable and peaceful Kurdish region. The region has beautiful mountains and streams. Prior to the war against ISIS in 2014, the Kurdistan region was considered a huge center of tourism. When the war ended in 2017 and after some disputes with Baghdad, it again became a major center of tourism. Ankara's attacks destabilize the area and cause panic. Ankara's attacks not only target Kurds, but also minority Christians and Yazidis; and now it appears to have also killed tourists.
The killing of the tourists marks a major escalation. This is because often when Ankara attacked Kurdish villages, claiming to fight "terrorists" there was impunity because of discrimination against Kurds in the region. US officials were wary to condemn Ankara because it is considered a "NATO ally." Turkey has recently tried to make it difficult for Sweden and Finland, two democracies, to joint NATO. Turkey is considered one of the world's largest jailor of journalists. The ruling far-right party in Ankara has become increasingly authoritarian and has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey's president met this week with Iran's president and also Russia's Vladimir Putin. It could be that the bombardment of the civilians is an escalation linked to the fact that Ankara believes it can get away with these kinds of attacks. Turkey knows that the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, has massacred civilians in similar bombardments, and that Russia has done the same in Ukraine. This could be a symbol of how Ankara views the "new world order" that Iran has been talking about, a world without human rights safeguards. The tourists may be the collateral damage and victims of the new Iran-Turkey-Russia partnership that was cemented this week.
In the wake of the attack Turkey has threatened US forces in Syria. Turkey's Anadolu news said "The US needs to withdraw its forces from regions of Syria east of the Euphrates River." In addition Turkey's president said that "America has to leave east of the Euphrates now. This is an outcome that came out of the Astana process." Turkey says it expects the US to leave and accused the US of "feeding" terrorist groups. Ankara has accused the US of supporting terrorists for years. Ankara also demands the US sell it more F-16s. Ankara invaded Syria's Afrin and ethnically cleansed it of Kurds and Yazidis in 2018 and in 2019 ordered the US to withdraw from part of eastern Syria. The Trump administration agreed to part of Turkey's requests. The Biden administration has asked Turkey not to launch another invasion. Iraqi sources will watch carefully how the US responds to the attack in northern Iraq, and Syrians will see if the US will stand by the SDF group it supports in eastern Syria.
Turkey has long been a harsh critic of Israel and accused Israel of harming civilians in previous conflicts with Hamas in Gaza. Ankara's own actions in Iraq show that while it condemns Israel, it often acts with impunity when fighting amongst civilians.
Scene of the attack
Some of the injured were children and all of the casualties were Arab tourists, according to the Kurdish news site Rudaw.
The mayor of Zakho, Muhsin Bashir, told Rudaw that a village in the district was bombed by Turkey twice, adding that Turkey was claiming that members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) "were roaming the village, which led Turkey to bombard it."
Iraqi officials condemn Turkish strikes
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi sent the country's foreign minister and security delegation to the site of the bombardment in order to investigate the incident and visit the wounded.
Kazemi condemned the strikes on Wednesday afternoon, saying "Turkish forces again committed a clear and flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and the lives and security of Iraqi citizens."
The Iraqi prime minister warned that Iraq reserves the "full right" to respond to the Turkish strikes, adding that "it will take all necessary measures to protect its people, and hold the aggressor party to bear all the consequences of the ongoing escalation."
"While Iraq appreciates and adheres to the principles of good neighborliness and categorically rejects the use of its lands by any party to attack its neighbors, it rejects, on the other hand, the use of security justifications to threaten the lives of Iraqi citizens and attack the territory of Iraq, which is considered a repudiation of the principles of good neighborliness, international agreements, relations and joint cooperation," added Kazemi.
Iraqi Shi'ite political leader Muqtada al-Sadr proposed a number of steps for the Iraqi government to take against Turkey in response to the attack, including reducing diplomatic relations with Turkey, closing airports and land crossings between the two countries, filing a complaint with the United Nations and cancelling the existing security agreement with Turkey.
Iraqi government summons Turkish ambassador, withdraws Charge d 'Affairs
During a meeting of the country's National Security Council on Wednesday evening, the council directed the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to summon the Turkish ambassador to Iraq, withdraw the Iraqi Charge d 'Affairs from Ankara and halt the procedures for sending a new ambassador to Turkey.
The council directed the Joint Operations Command to submit a report on the situation along the Iraqi-Turkish border and to "take all necessary steps for self-defense." The council additionally demanded that Turkey submit and official apology and withdraw its military forces from all Iraqi territory.
The Iraqi prime minister ordered the preparation of a comprehensive file of the "ongoing Turkish violations" to be submitted to the United Nations Security Council.
Iraqi citizens protest against Turkey
Hundreds of Iraqis protested in multiple locations across the country after the attack, stomping on and burning Turkish flags and conducting demonstrations in front of the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad.
Protesters skirmished with security forces in front of a Turkish visa office in Karbala, according to Iraqi reports.
Turkey denies it was behind the bombardment
The Turkish Foreign Ministry denied that it was behind the attack and claimed that it had "originated from a terrorist organization" in an apparent reference to the PKK.
"Turkey is ready to take every step to reveal the truth. We invite Iraqi government officials not to make statements under the influence of the rhetoric and propaganda of the treacherous terrorist organization and to cooperate in revealing the real perpetrators of this disastrous incident," added the Foreign Ministry. "Turkey carries out its fight against terrorism in accordance with international law, with the utmost sensitivity to the protection of civilians, civilian infrastructure, historical and cultural assets and nature."
The Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences to the Iraqi people and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.