People gather outside a hospital following Turkish shelling in the city of Zakho in the north of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on July 20, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Dohuk: Turkish artillery strikes killed at least eight tourists, among them a toddler, in northern Iraq and wounded over 20, Iraqi Kurdish government and hospital officials, and the army said on Wednesday.

At least four artillery shells struck the resort area of Barakh in the Zakho district in the semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, District Mayor Mushir Mohammed said. All the casualties were Iraqi citizens.

Iraq’s military said eight were killed in the attack. Health workers at the Bidar Hospital in Dohuk province, which received patients, said nine were killed.

Dozens of wounded people sat outside the hospital. Critically injured patients, including young children with stunned faces, were transferred in gurneys. Inside, a toddler was pronounced dead along with her mother.

Among the wounded was Yousef, a tourist from Baghdad. He said many tour groups were vacationing in the area at the time of the attack.

Iraq’s government condemned the attack, calling it a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Separately, six federal police personnel were killed and five were wounded in the northern province of Salahadin after Daesh militants attacked their units at dawn on Wednesday, according to two officials in the Iraqi army who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Hundreds of Iraqi tourists come to the Kurdish region from the south during the peak summer months because the weather is relatively cooler. The touristic sites in Zakho is nearby military bases set up by Turkey.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi dispatched a delegation to the area led by Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and ordered an investigation into the incident.

Turkey regularly carries out airstrikes into northern Iraq and has sent commandos to support its offensives targeting elements of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party or PKK.

Wednesday’s attack marked the first time that tourists had been killed in the frequent attacks by Turkey in the area, the officials said. Turkish strikes in the area are common and have killed civilians, mostly local villagers, there before.

In April, Turkey launched its latest offensive, named Operation Claw Lock, in parts of northern Iraq - part of a series of cross-border operations started in 2019 to combat the outlawed PKK who are based in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq.