BAGHDAD — At least eight Iraqis were killed Wednesday in the country’s northern Kurdistan region after Turkish artillery strikes hit a crowded tourist resort, officials said.
Videos from the scene of the attack showed a summertime idyll destroyed. Shortly before the strike, families had been gathered by a pool, taking a dip or resting in the dappled shade.
When the shelling began, screams filled the air beneath a canopy of vines. Parents grabbed their children and ran.
Turkey has been conducting military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in Iraq’s northern mountains for years. The group has fought a decades-long war for autonomy for Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish minority —
Wednesday’s strike on the Barakh resort area of Zakhu came as thousands of Iraqis took refuge from the summer heat in Kurdistan’s mountains. Many of the dead and wounded were from the country’s predominantly Arab federal region, where temperatures reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 Celsius) this week.
In an interview broadcast by the Kurdish television network Rudaw, an eyewitness visiting from the capital, Baghdad, said tendrils of smoke had been visible farther up the mountain from the window of his tourist bus as he arrived in Barakh.
“We asked our tour guide, but they said it was normal,” he said. About 15 minutes later, four or five strikes landed amid the gathered families, he said. A young boy’s hand was severed. An old man lost two daughters. In addition to the eight dead, at least 28 people were wounded.
Turkey, where millions of Kurds live in the southeastern part of the country bordering Iraq and Syria, has spent decades fighting a low-level war with the PKK, leaving tens of thousands dead.
The militants have operated in Iraq’s Kurdistan region for decades, and have historically been viewed as a political and security threat by the area’s ruling Kurdish parties. But in practice, neither has the capacity to oust them. Turkey has instead been allowed to operate dozens of military bases inside Iraq from which to target the group.
In a statement Wednesday, the Kurdistan region’s Council of Ministers condemned the strike and urged Iraq’s federal government, based in Baghdad, and the international community to do more to prevent attacks.
For its part, the United Nations condemned the attack and urged an investigation, but it did not mention Turkey in its statement. The U.S. State Department said it was monitoring the situation.
As night fell, dozens of protesters were gathered in protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad. Condemnations were scrawled in spray paint across Turkish bureaucratic offices in several of Iraq’s southern cities. On social media, a trending hashtag referenced a quotation from Saddam Hussein that likened Turkey, unfavorably, to one of Iraq’s other powerful neighbors, Iran.