On July 25, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied that his country was responsible for an artillery attack at a mountain resort in northern Iraq.
The July 20 shelling at the village of Parakh in semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdistan killed nine vacationers, including children, and injured 20 others.
The incident triggered an uproar among Iraqi politicians, who condemned the attack, and ordinary Iraqis, who protested outside the Turkish embassy in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement July 20 saying it conducts anti-terrorist operations “in accordance with international law.” The ministry blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey and some Western countries, including the United States, have classified as a terrorist organization.
Erdogan denied that Turkey was responsible.
“This [attack] is similar to normal terror moves of the [PKK]. We are not strangers to this. It is not possible for Turkey to do something like this,” Erdogan said.
That is misleading.
On July 24, Iraqi Defense Minister Juma Inad told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel that evidence from the site showed that 155mm artillery was used.
“We know the abilities of the PKK; this is not an army but a scattered gang using light and medium weapons,” Inad said. “Turkey used the 155mm artillery in its shelling.”
Inad said Baghdad had asked Ankara to coordinate its military strikes with the Iraqi government, but Turkey had not done so and was now responsible for the loss of civilians' lives.
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense said in a report on the attack that fire came from a location controlled by the Turkish military on the Turkish side of the border.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Guney, to deliver “a strong note of protest which conveyed the Iraqi government’s condemnation of this heinous crime committed by the Turkish troops.”
The dispute between Iraq and Turkey escalated during a July 27 United Nations Security Council session that Iraq requested. Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein called on the U.N. to establish an international mission of inquiry into the Turkish army's “flagrant aggression.”
Since 1999, Turkey has regularly conducted air and artillery strikes in northern Iraq and sent troops to support its long-running military campaign against the PKK.
In April, Ankara launched Operation Claw Lock, another cross-border air and ground operation targeting Kurdish fighters in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Turkey claims it can legally conduct such operations without Iraq’s consent under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which says member states have “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense.”
Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an international violence-reduction and rights group, said the July 20 attack was not the first Turkish strike in Parakh village.
On June 15, two Turkish farmers were killed during a Turkish bombardment there, CPT said, added that since 2015, 138 civilians were killed in Turkish strikes in the Kurdistan region. Those attacks forced evacuation of hundreds of villages and uprooted local farmers.
Kurdish sources in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah told Al-Monitor that the Parakh area is no longer used as route for PKK fighters, as it has been blocked by Turkey since 2015.
“There are 16 Turkish military bases, outposts or checkpoints near Parakh, including one that is only 3 km (about two miles) away. Turkish intelligence is active in the area, which is also under constant aerial surveillance,” Al-Monitor reported.
Abdel Emir Rashid Yarallah, chief of the Iraqi armed forces’ general staff, said last year that Turkey had 40 military posts inside Iraq and that today there are more than 100.
Yarallah said that Turkey maintains five military bases in northern Iraq, at which more than 4,000 Turkish soldiers are based.
Turkey is a U.S. ally and member of NATO, the U.S. and European defense alliance. Turkey has been providing weapons to Ukraine as it defends against a Russian invasion and helped broker a recent deal to resume shipments of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
The U.S. State Department condemned the attack on Parakh and called on all states to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and the lives of civilians under international law.
“We maintain our strong support for Iraq’s sovereignty and its security, stability, and prosperity, including that of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” the statement said.
The U.N. also condemned the attack, issuing a statement reiterating its “support for the independence, sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, democratic process and prosperity of Iraq.”
In September 2021, the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) coordinator for international advocacy said that more than 800 villages on Iraq’s borders with Turkey had been evacuated as a result of fighting between Turkey and the PKK.
The conflict had devastated the lives of thousands of civilians, destroying their homes, farms and livestock.