DOHUK, Iraq (AP) — Turkish artillery strikes killed at least eight tourists, among them a small child, in northern Iraq and wounded over 20, officials from the Iraqi Kurdish government, a hospital and the army said Wednesday.
At least four artillery shells struck the resort area of Barakh in the Zakho district in the semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, District Mayor Mushir Mohammed told The Associated Press. All the casualties were Iraqi citizens.
Iraq's military said eight were killed in the attack. Health workers at the Bidar Hospital in Dohuk province, which received patients, said nine were killed. The incident will test Iraq-Turkey relations. The two countries share deep economic ties but don't see eye-to-eye on security issues related to Kurdish insurgents operating in Iraq, oil trading with the Kurdish region and water-sharing.
Dozens of wounded people sat outside the hospital. Critically injured patients, including young children with stunned faces, were transferred in gurneys. Inside, a toddler was pronounced dead along with her mother.
The Iraqi Kurdish region's Health Ministry said all the dead were “young people and children,” including a 1-year old. The ministry said 26 people had been taken to the hospital with moderate to severe injuries.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing condolences to the Iraqi people and government over the deaths and a speedy recovery to those injured.
The statement said Turkey carries out its operations by showing “utmost sensitivity to the protection of civilians, infrastructure, historical and cultural assets and the environment.”
“Turkey is ready to take every step to reveal the truth,” the ministry said.
Among the wounded was Yousef, a tourist from Baghdad. He said many tour groups were vacationing in the area at the time of the attack.
Iraq's government condemned the attack, calling it a “flagrant violation of Iraq's sovereignty,” according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.
“This attack led to the deaths and injuries of civilians, most of whom are women and children,” Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said in a statement.
“This brutal attack underscores the fact that Turkey ignored Iraq's continuous demands to refrain from military violations against Iraqi territory and the lives of its people,” he said.
Al-Kadhimi convened an emergency meeting of the Ministerial Council for National Security. The council directed the Foreign Affairs Ministry to prepare a report on Turkey’s repeated attacks on Iraqi soil and submit an official complaint to the U.N. Security Council, while also summoning Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad.
It also ordered a pause in dispatching a new Iraqi ambassador to Ankara.
The U.N. mission in Iraq called in a statement for a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the attack.
Separately, six federal police personnel were killed and five were wounded in the northern province of Salahadin after Islamic State militants attacked their units at dawn on Wednesday, according to two officials in the Iraqi army who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Hundreds of Iraqi tourists come to the Kurdish region from the south during the peak summer months because the weather is relatively cooler. The touristic sites in Zakho is nearby military bases set up by Turkey.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi dispatched a delegation to the area lead by Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and ordered an investigation into the incident.
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.
Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdish-run regional administration, said the ongoing attacks hurts Iraqi Kurds and “must stop."
“Our region has been repeatedly dragged into violence by the infighting between Turkey and the PKK. It has cost our citizens unnecessary pain, suffering and anxiety. This has to end," he said in a statement.
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.
Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad.