Was Duhok terror attack aimed at poisoning Türkiye-Iraq ties? Featured

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Iraqi government to stop accusing Ankara while pointing at PKK terror group as the perpetrator of the attack.

Northern Iraq, like northern Syria, has long been a safe haven for various terror groups, from the PKK to Al Qaeda and Daesh. Much of northern Iraq has been under the control of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government, which constantly complains about the PKK's presence and attacks in the region. 

On June 20, a mountain resort in Zakho, a border district, which is located in Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government’s Duhok governorate, was targeted by artillery shelling killing eight Arab civilians and wounding 23 people.

While the central Iraqi government and some powerful Shia groups associated with Muqtada al Sadr, an Iraqi Shia leader, accused Türkiye of the attack, Ankara denied any responsibility for it and condemned it in strong terms, stating that the ghastly act was committed by terror groups active in the region. 

“It is considered that such attacks — which aim at innocent civilians and are assessed to be organised by the terrorist organisation — target our country's just and determined stance in the fight against terrorism,” said the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement. 

The attack has created a massive outrage across Iraq. While Türkiye rejected accusations from Iraq, who called on the UN to investigate the Duhok incident, Ankara also expressed its readiness “to take every step to reveal the truth,” indicating its willingness to work together with Baghdad to nail down the perpetrators of the attack. 

On Tuesday, the Turkish stance was recognised by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN’s special envoy for Iraq, in a statement to the UN Security Council. 

"In my conversation with Iraq’s prime minister [Mustafa al-Kadhimi] yesterday, he once again emphasised the importance of a transparent and thorough investigation: independent or jointly," the UN envoy said.

"Meanwhile, I do understand that Türkiye is also ready to address the issue jointly, with Iraq, in order to determine exactly what happened," she said.

The UN employs various methods to reach peaceful resolutions to political conflicts and disagreements between different states, ranging from mediating and conducting negotiations between conflicting sides to setting up inquiry commissions to investigate particular incidents like the Duhok terror attack. 

What’s the international process? 

Aside from a judicial remedy, which is binding for both sides, all other approaches are dependent on the consent of the parties involved, says Enver Arikoglu, a professor of international law at Istanbul University. “One of the ways to investigate an incident like the Duhok attack is to form either an inquiry commission or a reconciliation commission,” Arikoglu tells TRT World. 

“What I understand from the recent UN statement is that they appear to be forming an inquiry commission to investigate what happened in Duhok’s Zakho border district. The commission, whose members will be approved by both sides, will collect material evidence, like pieces of shelling, to identify which types of weapons were used,” he says. 

As a result, despite Iraqi accusations against Türkiye, Baghdad’s version of the events that took place is not enough to determine what really happened in the Iraqi border town. 

“Turkish views should also be taken into account by the UN’s inquiry commission established to investigate the incident. Neutral military experts should also give their assessments. The legal evaluation of the incident will be made according to their assessments,” says Mesut Hakki Casin, a professor of international law at Yeditepe University. 

“In the end, the UN commission's decision on the incident is not a binding decision, being open for appeal in international courts,” Casin tells TRT World. 

‘Türkiye does not target civilians’

Turkish foreign ministry also called on Baghdad not to act “under the influence of the rhetoric and propaganda of the treacherous terrorist organisation and to cooperate in bringing the real perpetrators of this tragic incident into light,” referring to the PKK terrorism.  

Türkiye has long fought against PKK terrorism, which killed tens of thousands of people including children and women since the early 1980s. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, the EU and the US. 

Since the late 1990s, the PKK has used northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains as its headquarters. As a result, Türkiye has conducted many cross-border operations in northern Iraq against the terror group and Turkish operations have been backed by Iraqi Kurdish regional authorities. 

While Türkiye continues to conduct its anti-terror operations in northern Iraq and Syria, Ankara has not targeted any civilians, according to Turkish authorities. Casin also underlines that the Turkish army has no such policy of targeting civilians. 

“According to the information we received from the Turkish Armed Forces, we did not conduct any attacks on civilians," said Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister.  

During an extensive interview with TRT on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also pointed to the PKK for the deadly attack, saying that, “This is how we saw the true face of the PKK once again." 

Poisoning Turkish-Iraqi ties

Ankara believes that the Duhok attack is orchestrated by illicit forces aiming to poison Turkish-Iraqi ties. 

But anti-Turkish forces in Iraq and the larger Middle East work hard to poison the growing political and economic ties between Türkiye and Iraq, a Shia-majority Arab state. After the Duhok incident last week, some Iraqi politicians called for boycotting Turkish goods and protests against Türkiye were held in some Iraqi cities, where the attack was used to provoke anti-Turkish sentiment across the country. 

“Their objective is to disrupt the positive relations between Iraq and Türkiye. We are no strangers to this," said Erdogan, reacting to Iraqi boycotts and protests against Ankara. 

But Erdogan also warned his Iraqi counterparts to “pay attention” to their statements. “We don't [want to] get into such a situation with our friend,” he said, referring to strong Turkish-Iraqi ties from trade to cultural connections. 

“Iraqi accusations toward Türkiye are unacceptable. It’s clear that there is American pressure on the government of Baghdad. Their target is to remove Turkish armed forces from northern Iraq,” says Casin, referring to Turkish anti-PKK cross-border operations in the region.

“Any border should be defended by both bordering states, but the Iraqi army has not had a military presence across Turkish-Iraqi border areas since the 1990s. As a result, according to UN principles, Türkiye has the right to self-defence in these territories [against the PKK and other groups],” says Casin. 

He also draws attention to the timing of the Duhok incident, which happened after the crucial trilateral meeting between Türkiye, Iran and Russia in Tehran last week. In the meeting, the three countries emphasised the territorial integrity of Syria and called on the US to exit the war-torn country. Erdogan also separately called on the US — which backs the YPG, the PKK’s Syrian wing — to leave Syria following the Tehran summit. 

“All these developments disturbed Washington,” says Casin, potentially pushing the US to use the Duhok incident to create political pressure over Türkiye. 

Source: TRT World