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Erdoğan claims PKK staged Zakho attack to damage Turkish-Iraqi relations

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Despite claims from the Iraqi authorities blaming Turkey for a deadly attack on civilians in a tourist resort in northern Iraq last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that the attack was staged by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to damage Turkey’s relations with Iraq, according to state-run media.

Wednesday’s attack on the district of Zakho in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region killed nine Iraqi tourists, including two children, and wounded more than 20.

Erdoğan, who responded to questions from journalists on a program aired by the state-run TRT on Monday evening, said the attack in Zakho was a game played by the PKK to ruin the positive relations between Turkey and Iraq.

“We don’t do things like this to our friends,” said Erdoğan.

Following the attack, Iraqi officials accused Turkey of staging the attack on civilians, with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi warning Turkey that Baghdad reserves the “right to retaliate” and calling the artillery fire a “flagrant violation” of sovereignty, while Iraqi President Barham Saleh deplored repeated “Turkish bombardment” and said the situation amounted to a “national security threat.”

In addition, Erdoğan criticized the United States for issuing a message of condolence about the death of three Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, who according to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed in a drone strike carried out by Turkish military forces.

The SDF is an offshoot of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is considered by Turkey an extension of the PKK and is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a message of condolence on Sunday over the killing of the three SDF fighters.

“[One of the terrorists] for whom they released a condolence message was a person who staged terrorist attacks against Turkey. The United States’ cooperation with terrorist organizations will cause it to fall into the hole it dug,” Erdoğan said.

The strike last Friday killed Salwa Youssef (also called Salwa Yusuk), a commander in the Counter-Terrorism Units (YAT); Jwana Hisso, a leader in the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ); and YAT fighter Ruha Bashar, the SDF media center said Saturday.

Erdoğan was specifically targeting Youssef, whose name was mentioned in CENTCOM’s condolences, which said: ““Salwa was a critical SDF leader who led forces in combat vs ISIS since the height of the fight to defeat the vile ideology in NE Syria in 2017. CENTCOM extends our condolences to the Families of these 3 SDF fighters, the people in Northeast Syria & our SDF partners.”

Erdoğan also said he was saddened by the decision of Iraq to withdraw from the upcoming Islamic Solidarity Games scheduled to take part in Turkey in August in a sign of protest for the Zakho attack.

“In protest of the innocent Iraqi blood that was shed in the city of Zakho … the Executive Office of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee decided, in its emergency meeting this morning, to withdraw from the fifth Islamic Solidarity Games,” Iraq’s Olympic committee announced on Jan.24.

The withdrawal reflected the stance of the Iraqi government and parliament as well as the majority of Iraqis, the statement added.

Erdoğan said Iraq should not take such a step.

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