ANKARA: An angry and grieving Iraq on Thursday buried nine holidaymakers — including a newlywed — killed in the artillery bombardment of a Kurdish hill village.
The government has blamed neighboring Turkey, which denied its troops were responsible and instead accused rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK.
Germany called for an urgent investigation.
In Baghdad, dozens of demonstrators protested outside the Turkish visa office early on Thursday, despite a heavy police presence.
Loudspeakers blared out 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 must be expelled,” said demonstrator Ali Yassin, 53.
There were similar protests on Wednesday night in the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala and in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
Germany’s foreign ministry said that “the circumstances of the attack and those responsible” must be urgently investigated.
“The German government assigns great importance to respect for Iraq’s state sovereignty and international law,” it said.
The Turkish foreign ministry denied responsibility for the bombardment, saying these “kinds of attacks” were committed by “terrorist organizations.”
Dr. Salim Cevik, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkish Studies, at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said that Turkey’s military operations in Iraq were a source of discontent for local and regional actors.
“The discontent increased over the years as Turkish operations penetrated deeper south into the Iraqi territory and Turkish military presence became more permanent. For most Iraqi actors and the Baghdad government, these operations are blatant violations of Iraq’s territorial integrity while Tehran considers Turkey’s military presence as an encroachment on its sphere of influence,” he told Arab News.
“However, Baghdad is too weak to confront Turkey and Iran avoids open confrontation with Turkey. Yet pro-Iranian militias have been sporadically targeting Turkish military bases in north Iraq in order to limit Turkish advancement. In contrast the Kurdistan Regional Government or KRG government passively supports Turkey’s military operations and also provides logistic support,” Cevik said.
According to Cevik, the bombardment gave these disgruntled groups an opportunity to push Turkey back.
“It may be a Turkish bombardment went wrong or a false flag operation conducted by other actors (the PKK or pro-Iranian militias). I don’t have any information to decide at this stage, but unless Turkey provides evidence to the contrary, the public opinion seems to accept this as a Turkish attack. Moreover, since Turkey is considered as the aggressor in the Iraqi territory, the burden of evidence falls on Turkey’s shoulders. Unless, Turkey proves that the bombing was not a Turkish attack, the Iraqi public, government and local actors will increase the pressure on Turkey to stop its military presence in Iraq,” he said.
Cevik said that this bombardment and the subsequent reaction from Iraqi groups should also be understood in the context of wider Iranian-Turkish rivalry in the region.
“In recent years Iran and Turkey increasingly differed on their regional policies, most significantly on Iraq, Syria and Caucasus. As Turkey mends its fences with Iran’s regional enemies — Saudi Arabia and Israel — it finds itself on a collision course with Iran. While Iran will continue to avoid direct confrontation with Turkey in Iraq, it will increase the pressure over Turkey through its militia proxies,” he said.
According to Cevik, this attack will also give Iran an opportunity to increase diplomatic pressure and to mobilize Iraqi public against Turkey.
“Yet, I don’t expect Turkey to withdraw from Iraq permanently, but Turkey may temporarily diminish its military activities in Iraq to avoid further criticisms,” he said.
Baghdad called back its charge d’affaires from Ankara and summoned Turkey’s envoy to Iraq.
As tensions spiral between Turkey and Iraq over the strike on Iraqi Kurdistan, Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the UK’s Royal United Services Institute, thinks that sovereignty violations are a sensitive issue for Iraq and concerns about Turkey’s conduct have grown in recent months, so the summoning of the ambassador in Ankara is an inevitable progression.
“Turkey has long-term strategic ambitions in Iraq, which includes the $50 billion trade target discussed last year so I suspect that this attack like previous ones will only be a temporary source of disruption of cooperation between Ankara and Baghdad,” he told Arab News.
Mehmet Alaca, a researcher at the Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, said that the discomfort of pro-Iranian groups in Iraq had been fueling the uneasiness about Turkey’s military presence in the country for a while.
“With the mass civilian death, Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi and the KRG’s capacity to manage the events shrank. In this respect, we have reached a new threshold in terms of the future of Ankara’s presence in Iraq. This will probably be questioned more and more from now on,” he told Arab News.
According to Alaca, the anger about Turkey’s military operations, which has recently increased in Iraqi society, has reached its peak with the latest incident, and the Baghdad government will try to appease the public.
“There have been civilian deaths before, but they were mostly Kurdistan citizens. This time, the deaths of Iraqi Arabs will be under the radar of Shiite politicians. Therefore, this issue will remain on the agenda for a quite long time,” he said.