Jul 27, 2022 - World

Rift grows between Ankara and Baghdad after attack in northern Iraq

People in Mosul protest attack that killed nine tourists in northern Iraq.

People in Mosul protest attack that killed nine tourists in northern Iraq. Photo: Ismael Adnan/picture alliance via Getty Images

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.
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