'I lost two flowers:' parents mourn children killed in Turkish artillery strike in Zakho

22-07-2022 02:08
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa AL-Kadhimi welcomed the dead bodies of the tourists at Baghdad airport. Photo: PM Kadhimi's office

 PEREGRAF- Ammar Aziz

It looked like the end of the world: Children screaming and crying, people running in all directions.

As Qais Ali and his family reacted to the first explosion, another hit the entrance of the Parakh resort.

His daughters—16-year-old Zahra and 12-year-old Sara—were among the nine people killed by Turkish shelling on the afternoon of July 20 in Duhok governorate’s Zakho administration.

Another child, a 1-year-old girl, was also killed, according to UNICEF.

Twenty-two other people were wounded in the attack, including children. Three patients remain under medical care and eleven underwent surgery, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Health.

Knocked to the ground by the impact of the second explosion, Ali frantically searched for his girls in the dust and smoke.

"We called out many times for Zahra and Sara. Where are they? The head of the tourism group said, ‘Unfortunately, they died,’" Ali, 58, told Peregraf.

He fainted after hearing that his daughters had been killed and later woke up at a hospital.

An estimated 20 busloads of tourists were in the vicinity during the attack. A total of five artillery shells struck the resort.

All the victims were Arab tourists visiting the area from central and southern Iraq.

Ali and his wife Ban Ali, 38, decided to take their daughters to Duhok on a summer trip to escape the heat back home in Baghdad.

"I lost two flowers. I loved them so much I can’t describe it," Ali said.

"Before the first explosion, we were sitting in the resort. Zahra and Sara were about 50 meters away from us until a loud noise came and everyone ran away," he added.

Ali and his wife were not physically hurt, but received treatment at Duhok Psychiatric Hospital due to the trauma of losing their daughters. The couple also have a son, who was not with them at the time.

A Peregraf reporter spoke to them in Duhok before they went back to Baghdad on July 21, accompanying their daughters’ coffins.

Qais at Duhok Hospital. Photo: Ammar Aziz, Peregraf/July 21, 2022

Twelve-year-old Haider Ali and his mother were among those who were wounded. He was taken to Duhok Emergency Hospital, while his mother was brought to Zakho General Hospital.

"We happily came from Karbala for travel, but our trip was a deep concern," Haider told Peregraf from the hospital, where he was in stable condition.

"I was in the water of the resort with a friend and my mother was near us, sitting with other tourists. Suddenly, a projectile hit my leg and hand," he continued, adding that he was eager to check on his mother.

Her injuries are much more severe. She underwent surgery and has had metal implants put in her legs and cannot walk.

Haider at Duhok Hospital. Photo: Ammar Aziz, Peregraf/July 21, 2022

Furious response from Baghdad

Iraq’s federal government immediately and unequivocally blamed Turkey for the attack.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has demanded an apology from Turkey and forwarded a complaint to the UN Security Council, noting its past objections to violations of its sovereignty.

Ankara denied responsibility for the shelling and attempted to blame the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which rejected Turkey’s claim.

Turkey frequently launches cross-border attacks, justifying its actions as necessary to combat the PKK. In April, it launched a new campaign, dubbed "Operation Claw-Lock."

According to Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT), at least 138 civilians have been killed in Turkish military actions in the Kurdistan Region since August 2015. There are an estimated 37 Turkish military bases in the Kurdistan Region, some of which are 35 kilometers from the border.

As a result of the fighting between Turkey and the PKK, hundreds of villages have been evacuated and thousands of acres of land have been burned. Airstrikes are common in Duhok, northern Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Makhmour, and Shingal.

CPT said that this is not the first time that Parakh has been targeted by Turkish artillery. Two farmers were injured in an orchard near the resort last month.

The July 20 attack sparked protests in front of the Turkish embassy in Baghdad and in several other cities in southern Iraq.

Two sons of tourist Ashwaq Hussam Ibrahim were hurt in the attack.

"In the afternoon, we were busy eating and my children were in the water of the resort when a shell suddenly dropped in the middle of the river. We and all the other people tried to get out of the resort," Ibrahim told Peregraf.

He and his children ran for cover, but 8-year-old Muhammed and 10-year-old Ali were both injured. He spoke to Peregraf from Duhok Emergency Hospital.

Mohammed and Ali, ashwaq's children, and their uncle's daughter at Duhok hospital. Photo: Ammar Aziz, Peregraf/July 21, 2022

"I saw people with their hands and legs cut off. The resort was heavily bombarded," Ibrahim said. "I have never heard such a loud noise in my life."

"I will never forget such a bad scene."