The Iraqi army says two senior security officials have been killed in a “blatant Turkish drone attack” in the country’s north, where Ankara has for weeks been raiding positions of fighters it considers “terrorists”.
The drone targeted a vehicle belonging to the Iraqi border guards in the Bradost area, north of Erbil, the military said in a statement on Tuesday. The strike caused the deaths of the two border guard battalion commanders and the vehicle’s driver.
There was no immediate statement by Turkey.
The deaths announced by the military marked the first time members of the regular Iraqi forces have been killed since Turkey launched a cross-border ground and air operation in mid-June against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the mountainous terrain of northern Iraq.
Iraq has already summoned the Turkish envoy in Baghdad twice in protest at Ankara’s operations on its soil.
Turkey has defended its operations in northern Iraq, saying neither the central government in Baghdad nor the regional Iraqi Kurdish administration have acted to remove PKK fighters who allegedly use Iraq’s territory to stage attacks on Turkey.
Ihsan Chalabi, the mayor of Sidakan in the north of Erbil Province, told AFP news agency that the drone had targeted “Iraqi border guard commanders while they were in meetings with PKK fighters”.
Witnesses had reported clashes earlier in the day between PKK and Iraqi forces, and local sources told AFP the drone strike targeted an emergency meeting called to try to calm the tensions.
At least five civilians have been killed since the start of the Turkish campaign in June, according to reports.
Ankara has announced the death of two of its soldiers, and the PKK and its allies have reported the deaths of 10 fighters and supporters.
The PKK is considered a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
At least 40,000 people have died in the decades-old conflict between the PKK and Turkey. After a peace process collapsed in 2015, ending a two-year ceasefire, the government said it would not return to talks with the PKK.