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Turkish-Iraqi ties strained over claims of civilian deaths

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 8/26/2011 12:00:00 AM | Sevil Küçükkoşum

Diplomatic relations between Baghdad and Ankara have become strained due to Turkey’s cross-border military operations against terrorist bases in northern Iraq.

Diplomatic relations between Baghdad and Ankara have become strained due to Turkey’s cross-border military operations against terrorist bases in northern Iraq.

Turkey has denied claims that seven civilians were killed during the army’s cross-border aerial attack against outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, targets in northern Iraq’s Kandil Mountains and sent evidence to Baghdad that it says proves the allegations are baseless.

The Iraqi ambassador to Ankara was meanwhile summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and given a diplomatic note to express Turkey’s uneasiness over what it called misinformed allegations on the Iraqi Foreign Ministry’s official website.

“Turkish military launched a probe into the allegations and found that no civilians were targeted. Pictures on Roj TV about the incident were made up for PKK propaganda,” a senior diplomat from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Friday.

On Wednesday, Iraq summoned Murat Özçelik, Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, to convey its protest of the alleged seven civilian deaths and to demand an immediate halt to air strikes along its northern border.

In reply, the ambassador delivered visual evidence from the Turkish army’s investigation into the incident proving that the so-called killings could not have been committed by Turkish jets.

It was claimed that Turkish jets hit a car carrying civilians near the city of Sulaimaniya and seven of them were killed.

“People died in that car and it had nothing to do with Turkey’s air strike,” the diplomat said. “The Turkish military used high explosive bombs for the operation and their destruction on the ground should be bigger,” the diplomat said, comparing footage from the road where the civilians were allegedly killed.

There was no evidence of an air strike around the wreckage of that vehicle, according to the high-altitude surveillance images released by websites of the PKK and Roj TV, its alleged broadcast outlet, he said.

“There are no craters in the road,” he said. Turkey did not brief Baghdad before the military operation was carried out due to security reasons, the diplomat said.

Despite the visual evidence that the Turkish ambassador provided to Baghdad, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry still did not remove the information on the so-called “Seven civilians killed during aerial attack” from its official website. Then Turkey summoned Iraqi Ambassador to Ankara Abdul Amir Kamil Abi Tabikh on late Thursday for the false information still posted on the Iraqi Foreign Ministry’s website.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu strongly reacted to Iraq’s condemnation of the Turkish military operation in northern Iraq. “We are talking about terrorist bases in the territories of a foreign country. If they do not clear their territories from terrorist cells, then we’ll do it,” he said in a televised interview late Thursday.

He warned the Iraqi government that “we’ll carry out all necessary operations until the Iraqi territory is cleared of terrorist elements.”

“We did not receive any international criticism about the cross-border operation,” he said.

Since 1984, Turkey has been fighting the PKK, which uses northern Iraq as a base for hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

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