HEROR, Iraq (AP) — A convoy of gunmen opened fire on a row of liquor stores in eastern Baghdad immediately after sunset on Tuesday, killing 11 people and wounding five others, officials said.
Police said the gunmen were in four cars that had stopped in the area and attacked shortly after sunset. Hospital officials confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media.
The attack in the Zayouna neighborhood came as the stores were at their peak business time, when commuters buy alcohol on the way home from work. Police say the four liquor stores hit had been rebuilt after bombers destroyed them in a previous attack last year.
Nobody claimed responsibility, although Islamic extremists have frequently targeted liquor stores in Iraq, where alcohol is available in most cities.
Meanwhile in the country’s north, the first Kurdish fighters entered Iraq from Turkey as part of a peace deal with Ankara to end a decades-long uprising despite Iraqi objections to the transfer.
The rebels’ retreat to bases in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region is a key stage in the peace process between the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and the Turkish government, aimed at ending one of the world’s bloodiest insurgencies.
The PKK declared a cease-fire in March, heeding a call from its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is engaged in talks with Turkey to end a nearly 30-year battle that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
Carrying rifles and hand grenades, the first 13 men and women arrived Tuesday in Heror in the Iraqi Kurdish area and were greeted by comrades serving refreshments of tea and cookies.
“We have been on the road for the past seven days,” said Sawashka Kawar, one of the fighters. “But today, we made it and arrived in Iraq despite the difficult journey.”
She warned the Turkish government that if PKK fighters were attacked, they “will fight back.”
The refuge offer came from Iraq’s Kurdish region, which enjoys limited independence from the central government in Baghdad. Iraqi Kurds were involved in the talks with Turkey.
Baghdad has rejected the deal, warning that the entry of more armed Kurdish fighters could harm Iraq’s security and add tension to already souring relations between the self-ruled Kurdish region and the central government. The two sides are in conflict over contested areas, including key oil-producing sectors and disputed areas.
During a session Tuesday, the Iraqi Cabinet reiterated its rejection of the deal and of the presence of PKK fighters, saying it “represents a flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and independence.”
The government said Iraq will file a complaint to the U.N. Security Council about it. “Iraq stresses its right to defend its sovereignty and independence in ways seen proper and in accordance with international laws and decisions,” said the statement.
In Heror, PKK official Furat Jakrkhouni said a larger group is expected to enter Iraq in a week’s time.
“More PKK fighters will be arriving if things go smoothly,” he said. “The withdrawal process will continue if there is no obstacles put by the Turkish government.”
PKK, considered a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies, is believed to have between 1,500 and 2,000 fighters inside Turkey, along with several thousand more based in northern Iraq, which they use as a springboard for attacks on Turkish territory.
Relations between Iraq and Turkey have been strained since December, when Iraq’s fugitive Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi took refuge in Turkey following accusations by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad that he was running death squads.
Turkish officials rejected Baghdad’s request to hand over al-Hashemi, who was tried and convicted in absentia.
Yacoub reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Mohammed Jambaz contributed from Heror.