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Gunmen Kill Turkish Diplomat and Two Iraqis in the Kurdish Region of Iraq

A Turkish diplomat and two Iraqis were killed Wednesday in a gun attack in a restaurant in the Kurdish-controlled region of Iraq, according to the Turkish and Iraqi governments.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, confirmed the death of an official of the Turkish Consulate, and said that one Iraqi had been killed and another seriously wounded. The second Iraqi died later.

The two Iraqis worked for the consulate, said Dr. Ahmed al-Sahaf, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman. One was a guard for the Turkish diplomat.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the shooting or why. Iraqi and Turkish authorities said they were investigating the attack.

"The first thing that comes to mind is whether this is a terror attack," Mr. Cavusoglu told reporters. "The fact that just on the next table two Iraqis were attacked, one killed and one gravely injured, the fact that it was an attack against them, too -- to give clear, detailed information, everything has to be revealed."

He said there were three assailants, who had escaped.

The second Iraqi citizen who was wounded in the shooting died later in the hospital, hospital officials said.

The attack took place in the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, Erbil, reportedly at the Huqqabaz restaurant, between the city center and the main airport. The victims' names were not immediately released.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "an official of our Consulate General in Erbil has been martyred as a result of a heinous attack, while he was outside of our Consulate compound."

The Turkish news outlet Haberturk reported that the shooting took place after 2 p.m., as the diplomat was being served lunch, when two attackers using guns with silencers opened fire.

A Kurdish news organization, Rudaw, reported that security forces had put the area on lockdown and told people to avoid it.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, said on Twitter that efforts were underway to catch the assailants.

"The necessary response will be given to those who carried out this treacherous attack," he said.

Turkey has long fought against some Kurdish factions in the region, battling both a Kurdish-led rebel force in Syria and a Kurdish separatist insurgency within Turkey.

Turkey has also struck bases in the area used by the Kurdish separatist group, the P.K.K., which Turkey and the United States have labeled a terrorist organization. Last week, Turkey mounted a fresh ground operation against the group in the mountainous border region.

The P.K.K. denied involvement in the shooting.

"The P.K.K. has nothing to do with the attack on Turkish diplomats, among them the deputy of the Turkish consulate in Erbil, and the P.K.K. has no information about this attack," Diyar Daneer, a spokesman for the Peoples' Protection Units, the armed wing for the P.K.K., said in a statement.

Turkey has developed relatively friendly relations and extensive economic ties with the semiautonomous Kurdish region. Mr. Erdogan visited the region in 2011, and this year the region's president, Nechirvan Barzani, went to Istanbul to meet the Turkish leader.

Turkey faces another potent enemy in the area, the Islamic State, which it helped oust from Syria. The Islamic State no longer controls territory in the region, but it remains as an underground movement.

Last week, the Islamic State released a video announcing the formation of its "Turkey Province" and threatening Mr. Erdogan personally. Five masked men in front of an Islamic State flag appeared on the video, speaking Turkish and singling out Turkey and the United States for attack, a ritual that often comes before violence is perpetrated.

"Oh you the arrogant tyrant of Turkey!" one of the speakers said, addressing Mr. Erdogan, according to a translation from the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the activity of extremist groups online. "Do not think that the swords of the soldiers of the caliphate are far from you or from those who stand on your side. Know that your seeking glory from the crusaders will not avail you in front of the soldiers of the caliphate."

[Source: By Carlota Gali, The New York Times, Istanbul, 17Jul19]

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