Hundreds protest in Baghdad after deadly attack on tourist resort

·3 min read

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hundreds of people protested in Baghdad on Thursday after an attack in northern Iraq killed nine people including a newly wed husband and a 1-year-old, a strike that Iraq blamed on Turkish forces but which Ankara denied carrying out.

The incident took place on Wednesday at a summer resort near the northern Iraqi town of Zakho close to the border with Turkey, in a region where Turkish forces have waged a campaign against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Iraq accused Turkey of responsibility for the deaths, but has not provided evidence. Ankara said it had not carried out any attacks aimed at civilians in the area and said it was ready to hold talks with Iraq to uncover the facts.

“All signals indicate that Turkey is responsible for the assault and its denial is a 'dark joke,'” the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“There is a possibility that Iraq will resort to the economic card,” the ministry said, without further explanation.

In Baghdad, around 500 people gathered near a building belonging to the Turkish Embassy and scuffles briefly broke out between police and protesters.

"We demand a real reaction from the Iraqi government," protester Haider al-Tamimi said, accusing politicians in federal Iraq and the autonomous Kurdish-led region where the attack took place of a weak response to the bloodshed.

Iraq has summoned Ankara's ambassador to Baghdad over the attack and its state agency said the government will recall its charge d'affaires in Ankara.

The bodies of the victims were flown to Baghdad on Thursday, with ceremonies marking their transfer to the capital attended by senior Iraqi government officials including Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Kadhimi's office described the victims as "martyrs from the brutal Turkish attack which targeted civilians".

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said on Thursday that Turkish military operations in Iraq have always been against the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union. He said the attack was carried out by what he called terrorists.

"MARRIED FOR JUST FIVE DAYS"

One victim of the attack was 24-year-old Baghdad resident Abbas Alaa, who was studying to become a civil engineer..

"He was married for five days. He went for his honeymoon," Alaa's cousin Mohammed Kadhim told Reuters, as he joined relatives for the funeral. Alaa's wife suffered minor injuries, he said.

Others caught up in the violence were enjoying a break in the mountains from the oppressive summer heat.

"The children were playing in the water. ... After half an hour, they hit us. And after a minute. We did not know where to go any more," said Kifah Ali Najem, who said he lost his sister and niece.

"Our family scattered, the women were dispersed, the men were dispersed," he said. "We are upset, we want our bodies."

Turkey regularly carries out air strikes in northern Iraq and has sent commandos to support its offensives as part of a long-running campaign against militants of the Kurdish PKK, which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which in the past was mainly focused in southeast Turkey, where the PKK sought to create an ethnic homeland.

"The whole world knows we would never carry out an attack on civilians," Turkey's Cavusoglu said.

(Reporting by Amina Ismail in Erbil, Kawa Omar in Dohuk, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Thaier Al-Sudani, Haider Kadhim, Seba Kareem and Charlotte Bruneau in Baghdad; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by William Maclean and Leslie Adler)

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