Following a diplomatic note Baghdad sent to Ankara through the Turkish ambassador earlier this week, the Turkish Foreign ministry has rebuffed Iraqi claims of civilian casualties resulting from Turkish airstrikes in the Kandil Mountains to eliminate members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Diplomatic sources denied claims by Iraqi officials on Friday stating that Turkish air assaults, which were carried out unilaterally by Turkey in response to heightened terrorist activities along the border, had not resulted in any civilian casualties.
“The Turkish air strikes hit only the designated targets and have nothing to do with the reports of civilian casualties,” a senior Turkish diplomat, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said on Friday, while highlighting the possibility that the reports could be “completely fabricated” by the outlawed PKK to cast a shadow over the Turkish operations.
Late on Thursday, Turkish diplomats invited the Iraqi ambassador, Abdul Amir Kamil Abi Tabikh, to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and briefed him on some footage of an incinerated vehicle reportedly carrying a family of seven and explained that Turkey “finds it odd that despite clarification, the reports are still available on the website of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.”
The vehicle in the footage obtained by Kurdish-language Roj TV, currently on trial in Denmark on charges of ties with the PKK, could not have been damaged by air strikes, since “the strength of the Turkish bombs make a crater around the target of about eight meters in diameter,” damaging not only a vehicle-size target but also the road in the process, which looked intact in the footage that was provided, diplomatic sources explained. The diplomats confirmed there have been no civilian casualties, but that close to a hundred terrorists were killed during the operations that targeted terrorist bases in the Kandil mountains from Aug. 17 to 22.
The diplomatic row between the countries erupted when Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Murat Özçelik, was summoned on Wednesday by Iraqi officials over the reports of civilian casualties and demanded Turkey to stop the airstrikes. “The Turkish ambassador was summoned here to the Foreign Ministry. He was handed a protest, a diplomatic about the continued bombing,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was quoted as saying by Reuters on Thursday, highlighting Iraqi dissent with the airstrikes along its border with Turkey.
Late on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu rebuffed Iraqi reactions by stating that “Turkey can no longer remain silent in the face of these [PKK] attacks.” In an interview broadcast live by the private NTV news channel, the foreign minister explained that the strikes should not be interpreted as a move in defiance of sovereignty rights, and underlined that Turkey has the right to handle the process of eliminating the terrorists if the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq “fails to do it themselves.”
Although Turkish diplomatic sources affirmed that the Turkish ambassador in Iraq had presented evidence to Iraqi officials that Turkish planes were not responsible for the alleged civilian casualties, they noted that Baghdad’s insistence on ignoring Turkey’s clarification could be an attempt at “saving face,” because of the lack of a unified control over the region and a vacuum of authority.