Turkey accused of killing civilian tourists in bombardment in Iraq

Turkey has been accused of massacring civilian tourists in northern Iraq.

A Turkish flag, with the New and the Suleymaniye mosques in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey, April 11, 2019. (photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
A Turkish flag, with the New and the Suleymaniye mosques in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey, April 11, 2019.
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)

Turkey was accused of massacring numerous civilian tourists in an artillery bombardment in northern Iraq. It is the latest attack by Ankara on civilians in Iraq. Local authorities said that children were among the victims.

For years, Iraqi authorities have asked Turkey to stop using armed drones and artillery against people in Iraq. Ankara claims to be fighting “terrorists,” but, like many countries that use the claim of fighting “terrorism,” it often ends up killing civilians. Ankara has carried out more long-range attacks in Iraq in recent years, targeting people in vehicles in the Nineveh plains and Sinjar.

In each case, Ankara claims it neutralized “terrorists,” but locals say they fear the attacks and many civilians have fled areas where Ankara operates.

Turkey has denied the attacks on tourists and told Iraq not to make statements about the incident. Ankara has accused Iraq of being under the influence of “rhetoric and propaganda” of terrorists. This appears to be an escalation by Turkey against Iraq and represents a belief that Ankara can not only bomb civilians, but then control Baghdad’s response.

The latest attack targeted a tourist resort in Zakho, which is in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region. The area is where there have been clashes for decades between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party. Ankara claims the group is a terrorist group. Locals say they have been driven from villages by both the fighting and Turkey’s establishment of a dozen small bases and outposts in the mountains.

 Security forces gather outside a hospital after a Turkish attack, in Zakho, Iraq, July 20, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ARI JALAL) Security forces gather outside a hospital after a Turkish attack, in Zakho, Iraq, July 20, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ARI JALAL)

According to reports from Iraq, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi slammed the recent attack. Kadhimi firmly condemned the bombardment, Rudaw media reported, blaming Turkey and calling it a “blatant and flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and the lives and security of Iraqi citizens.”

Baghdad says it could respond, but in the past, Baghdad has only issued statements about these incidents. Iraq’s President Barham Salih, who is Kurdish, also slammed the attack, noting that the Turkish bombing was in violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

“We strongly condemn the shelling of the Parekh Resort near the Darkar border of the Zakho Autonomous Administration by Turkish forces which, unfortunately, caused the death and injury of a number of tourists,”

Kurdistan region Council of Ministers

“We strongly condemn the shelling of the Parekh Resort near the Darkar border of the Zakho Autonomous Administration by Turkish forces which, unfortunately, caused the death and injury of a number of tourists,” a statement from the Kurdistan region Council of Ministers said. “We extend our condolences to the families of the martyrs and wish the wounded a speedy recovery.”

The victims, according to Rudaw, were Iraqi tourists who came from southern and central Iraq. That means they are likely Arabs who went to the Kurdish region for vacation. In the summer heat, it is common for many Iraqis to go for a vacation in the stable and peaceful Kurdish region.

Prior to the ISIS war 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 once again became a major center of tourism. Ankara’s attacks destabilized the area and caused 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, they claimed to fight “terrorists” and thus gained 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 join NATO.

Turkey is considered one of the world’s largest jailers 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 both Iran’s president and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The escalation – namely, the bombardment of civilians – could be linked to Ankara’s belief that 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 symbolic 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.

“All victims of the deadly bombardment were tourists from central and southern Iraq and were part of a 200 person tourist group, according to Zakho mayor Muhsin Bashir,” Rudaw said. “Top Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also lashed out at Turkey for the bombardment, suggesting Iraq to take measures against the repeated violation of its sovereignty by reducing diplomatic ties with Turkey, closing off air and land crossings, filing an official complaint to the UN, and annulling all security agreements with Ankara. Similar suggestions were echoed by political rival and leader of the Fatah Alliance, Hadi al-Amiri.”

Iraq’s foreign ministry also condemned the attack, and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) called for a “thorough investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the attack.” It appears top-level Iraqi officials will not travel to the site of the massacre. Turkey’s foreign ministry has expressed sorrow for the loss of life, but blamed “terrorists” for the incident.

In the wake of the attack, Turkey has threatened US forces in Syria. “The US needs to withdraw its forces from regions of Syria east of the Euphrates River,” Turkey’s Anadolu news said.

Turkey's threats

In addition, Turkey’s president said, “America has to leave east of the Euphrates now. This is an outcome that came out of the Astana process.”

Turkey says that 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. In 2019, it 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.