Gap widens between Ankara and Baghdad after attack in northern Iraq

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ANKARA, Turkey — The attack that killed nine tourists in northern Iraq Last week opened a major rift between Ankara and Baghdad and could have a significant impact on 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 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. He also demanded that all Turkish forces withdraw from Iraq.
  • The Turkish government has denied responsibility and claimed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was behind the attack.

Why is this important: Any further escalation between Turkey and Iraq could harm bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries, especially when Iraq is heavily economically dependent 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 recently urged Iraqis to stop trading with Turkey.
  • The ongoing negotiations on the water sharing agreement on the Tigris and Euphrates basins as well as the oil trade with the Kurdistan Regional Government also bind the two countries.

State of play: The UN Security Council strongly condemned the attack and urged its members to “actively cooperate” with Iraq on the investigation.

  • The UN special envoy for Iraq told 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 regularly conducts cross-border military operations there to target PKK militants.

  • Ankara has stepped up its operations in the region in recent months, sparking concern within the Iraqi government as well as outrage from Iran, which is fighting for its influence in these areas.
  • Meanwhile, Western countries, including the United States, have urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not to follow through on his recent threats to launch a new operation against PKK-affiliated YPG militants in northern Syria. .
  • Last week’s attack in northern Iraq could increase opposition to any further Turkish operations in Syria.

What to watch: Turkey is not expected to permanently withdraw from Iraq, but it could temporarily reduce its military activities in the country in an attempt to calm international outrage.

  • Yes, but: A withdrawal of Turkish forces from Iraq could be seen as a weakness by Turkish nationalist voters ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

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