Iraq cancelled a ministerial visit and summoned Turkey’s ambassador on Wednesday as it blamed Ankara for a drone attack that killed two high-ranking Iraqi military officers.
Iraqi officials called the attack a “blatant Turkish drone attack” in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, where Turkey’s military has for weeks raided positions of fighters it considers “terrorists”.
Two border guard battalion commanders and the driver of their vehicle were killed on Tuesday, the army said in a statement, marking the first Iraqi troop deaths since Turkey launched the cross-border operation in mid-June against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels.
Iraq’s foreign ministry – which already summoned the Turkish envoy twice over the military action on its soil – said the ambassador would this time be given “a letter of protest with strong words” rejecting the offensive.
The ministry also confirmed the Turkish defence minister would no longer be welcomed for a planned visit on Thursday.
Ihsan Chalabi, mayor of nearby Sidakan in the north of Erbil province, said the drone attack in the Pradost region targeted “Iraqi border guard commanders while they were in meetings with PKK fighters”.
Witnesses reported clashes earlier in the day between PKK and Iraqi forces, and local sources said the drone attack targeted an emergency meeting called to try to calm the tension.
The Iraqi presidency earlier denounced “a dangerous violation of Iraqi sovereignty” and called on Ankara to “stop all its military operations” in the region.
On Tuesday, the spokesperson of the Iraqi presidency called for an immediate end to such attacks, adding the two sides must resolve border issues.
This was echoed by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) ministry of interior, which called on Turkey and the PKK to take their fight outside of Iraq.
At least five civilians have been killed since the start of the Turkish campaign in June. Ankara said two of its soldiers were killed and the PKK and its allies have reported the deaths of 10 fighters.
The PKK, which is blacklisted as a “terrorist group” by Ankara and its Western allies, has waged an armed insurrection against the Turkish state since 1984, killing tens of thousands of people.
It has long used the rugged terrain of northern Iraq as a rear base to wage attacks on Turkey, which in turn set up military positions inside Iraqi territory to fight back.
The Kurdish authorities, dominated by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP), see the PKK as a rival but have never been able to uproot it from northern Iraqi bases.
Iraq sees Turkey’s military presence in the Kurdish region as a violation of its sovereignty, but does not want to alienate Turkey, a major trading partner and regional heavyweight.