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Angry Iraq mourns dead from shelling blamed on Turkey

ARBIL: Iraq held a day of national mourning Thursday for nine holidaymakers killed in the bombardment of a Kurdish hill village that the government has blamed on neighbouring Turkey. Turkey denied its troops were responsible, instead blaming rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), prompting Germany to call for an urgent investigation. The coffins of the nine dead, draped in Iraqi national flags and festooned with flowers, were put on board a flight to Baghdad from Kurdish regional capital Arbil by an honour guard led by top officials.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and Kurdish regional president Nechirvan Barzani led the pallbearers carrying the smallest of the coffins, a child’s, onto the military plane, an AFP correspondent reported. In Baghdad, the bodies were to be handed over to their families for burial. Thursday’s shelling in the Zakho district village of Parakh also wounded 23 people, the majority of them domestic tourists seeking respite from the heat of the plains in the mountains of the Kurdish north.

The deaths in a village pleasure garden prompted angry anti-Turkish demonstrations in cities across Iraq. In Baghdad, dozens of demonstrators protested outside the Turkish visa office early 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.

Protesters brandished portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labelled “terrorist” and trampled Turkish flags underfoot. “We want to burn down the embassy. The ambassador must be expelled,” said demonstrator Ali Yassin, 53. “Our government is doing nothing.” There were similar protests on Wednesday night in the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala and in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

‘Flagrant violation’

In an unusually strong rebuke, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi warned Turkey on Wednesday that Iraq reserves the “right to retaliate”, calling the artillery fire a “flagrant violation” of sovereignty — a line echoed by the north’s autonomous regional government. Iraq said it was recalling its charge d’affaires from Ankara and demanded an official apology from Turkey along with “the withdrawal of its armed forces from all Iraqi territory”.

The Turkish foreign ministry denied responsibility for the bombardment, saying these “kinds of attacks” were committed by “terrorist organisations”. On its Twitter account, the Turkish embassy offered its condolences to “our brother Iraqis killed by the PKK terrorist organisation”.

Germany called for an urgent probe. “There must urgently be light shed on the circumstances of the attack and those responsible,” the foreign ministry said. “The German government assigns great importance to respect for Iraq’s state sovereignty and international law.” Ankara launched an offensive in northern Iraq in April dubbed “Operation Claw-Lock”, which it said targets fighters from the PKK.

The rebels have kept up a deadly insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984 and Ankara and its Western allies blacklist the group as a “terrorist organisation”. For the past 25 years, the Turkish army has maintained dozens of outposts across Iraq’s Kurdish north as part of its campaign against the rebels. There have been sporadic calls for their removal. Iraq and Turkey are key trade partners but Ankara’s successive offensives against PKK rear bases in the north have been a persistent thorn in relations, particularly when they have caused civilian casualties. – AFP

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