Rift grows between Ankara and Baghdad after attack in northern Iraq
ANKARA, Turkey — The attack that killed nine tourists in northern Iraq last week opened a significant rift between Ankara and Baghdad and could significantly impact Turkey’s military plans in Iraq and Syria.
Driving the news: The tourists, including a child, were killed last Wednesday after artillery shells hit a park in the Duhok governorate in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
- The Iraqi government blamed Turkey for the attack, summoned the Turkish ambassador and demanded an official apology for the strike, which it called a violation of its sovereignty. It also demanded that all Turkish forces withdraw from Iraq.
- The Turkish government denied any responsibility and claimed that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was behind the attack.
Why it matters: Any further escalation between Turkey and Iraq could damage bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries, especially when Iraq is heavily dependent economically on trade with Turkey.
- Last year, bilateral trade reached $19.5 billion, with Iraq becoming Turkey's fifth-largest export market. But the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce has recently urged Iraqis to stop trading with Turkey.
- Ongoing negotiations over the water-sharing deal about the Tigris and Euphrates River basins as well as oil trading with the Kurdistan Regional Government also bind the two countries together.
State of play: The UN Security Council strongly condemned the attack and urged its members to “cooperate actively” with Iraq on the investigation.
- The UN special envoy for Iraq said at a Security Council meeting yesterday that Turkey and Iraq were ready for a joint investigation.
The big picture: Turkey has several military bases in northern Iraq, and it conducts regular cross-border military operations there to target PKK militants.
- Ankara has ramped up its operations in the region in recent months, leading to Iraqi government concerns as well as outrage from Iran, which fights for influence in these areas.
- Meanwhile, Western countries, including the U.S., have urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not to make good on his recent threats to launch a new operation against the PKK-affiliated YPG militants in northern Syria.
- Last week's attack in northern Iraq could increase opposition to any new Turkish operation in Syria.
What to watch: Turkey is not expected to withdraw from Iraq permanently, but it may reduce its military activities in the country on a temporary basis to try to calm international outrage.
- Yes, but: A withdrawal of Turkish forces from Iraq could be perceived as weakness by Turkish nationalistic voters ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.