Turkish Diplomat among 3 Shot Dead in Iraqi Kurdistan
A Turkish diplomat was among three people who were shot dead in Iraqi Kurdistan on Wednesday, local security officials and Turkey’s foreign ministry said.
A gunman opened fire at a restaurant in Erbil where Turkish diplomats were dining before fleeing in a car driven by an accomplice, two Kurdish security officials and a witness said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility as security forces began a search for the attackers.
Turkey, Iraq’s central government in Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in Erbil condemned the attack, which took place weeks after Turkey launched a new military offensive against Kurdish separatists based in northern Iraq.
Ankara’s main enemy in Iraq is the PKK group, which has based fighters in the mountainous border region, north of Erbil, during its decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Turkey and the ruling Kurdish party in Erbil, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have blamed the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) for other Turkey-related incidents in northern Iraq including the storming of a Turkish military camp earlier this year.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said one of those killed on Wednesday was a diplomat working at its consulate to semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.
A statement from the Kurdish internal security service said two people were killed - the diplomat and another civilian - and one other person was wounded.
A spokesman for the Iraqi foreign ministry confirmed the incident and condemned the attack.
"We are continuing our efforts with the Iraqi government and local authorities to find the perpetrators of this attack as quickly as possible," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His spokesman Ibrahim Kalin vowed "the necessary response will be given to those who committed this treacherous attack."
The Kurdish officials and Iraqi state television earlier said three people were killed and that they were all Turkish diplomats and included the deputy consul.
One witness told Reuters that an attacker entered the restaurant and started shooting before he fled in a car that was waiting for him outside.
It was a rare major security incident in Erbil, where a new president and prime minister, part of a clan that has controlled the KDP for decades, recently took office. The KDP has said it will continue to cooperate closely with Ankara against the PKK.
“Nobody invited them (the PKK) here,” Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said in an interview with Reuters this month.
“We disapprove of their activities and ... of their presence here. We understand the concerns of the neighboring countries about security issues,” he said, adding that Erbil would look to strengthen relations with Turkey.
A spokesman for the PKK's armed branch denied the group was involved in Wednesday's shooting.
The US embassy slammed the attack as "heinous" and offered its condolences to the Turkish mission, calling for "the defense and safety of foreign diplomats and diplomatic missions in Iraq."
Ankara’s forces have regularly carried out air raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq and in May dropped commandos on mountain ridges in a new operation against the militants.
Turkey has called for Baghdad to take a more active role in helping it eliminate the PKK, and has waged offensives in recent years against PKK allies in northern Syria.
The PKK is classified as a "terrorist" group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union because of the three-decade insurgency it has waged against the Turkish state.