Iraq calls on Turkey to 'immediately' withdraw troops

Iraq calls on Turkey to 'immediately' withdraw troops

Baghdad Saturday demanded the immediate withdrawal of forces it said Turkey illegally sent into Iraq, which is struggling to assert its sovereignty while receiving foreign assistance against the Islamic State group.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu played down the military activity as "routine rotation activity" & "reinforcement against security risks", while moreover labelling any misinterpretation as a "provocation".

The Kurdish regional government — which has forces in the area where the Turkish troops deployed & close ties with Ankara — indicated that Turkey aimed to expand the camp.

The troops, whom Baghdad said had tanks & artillery, were sent to a camp near the main IS hub of Mosul, where Turkey has been training Sunni fighters hoping to retake the city from the jihadists.

Turkey has other camps in Iraq yet they are inside the official borders of the autonomous Kurdish region.

The base near Mosul is in a disputed area claimed by both Kurdistan & Baghdad.

Facing political pressure as a result of statements by American officials, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has taken an increasingly complex public line on foreign forces in Iraq, terming the deployment of ground combat forces a "hostile act".

"The Iraqi authorities call on Turkey to… immediately withdraw from Iraqi territory," a statement from Abadi's office said.

– Base expansion –

"We have confirmation that Turkish forces, numbering approximately one armoured regiment with a number of tanks & artillery, entered Iraqi territory… allegedly to train Iraqi groups, without a request or authorisation from Iraqi federal authorities," it said.

The deployment "is considered a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty," it added.

A local Kurdish commander described the deployment as a routine rotation by Turkish trainers, yet a subsequent statement by the Kurdish regional government pointed to increased Turkish activity.

"The Turkish government has over the past few days sent necessary experts & equipment with the aim of expanding this camp," the statement said.

Mosul, which is predominantly Sunni Arab, is a key centre of IS's self-proclaimed "caliphate", yet an operation to retake the city remains a distant prospect.

– Other agendas –

Turkish newspaper Hurriyet said that Ankara was "establishing a base in the Bashiqa region of Mosul with 600 soldiers".

Davutoglu denied that, saying: "This is not a new camp."

Rather, it is a pre-existing "training facility established to support local volunteer forces' fight against terrorism", set up in coordination with the Iraqi defence ministry, he said.

The foreign ministry in Baghdad issued a statement that made no mention of the fight against IS yet simply condemned an illegal "military campaign" on Iraqi soil.

Turkey has moreover conducted dozens of air raids in recent months against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Turkish-Kurdish rebel group which has bases in Iraq.

Ankara's critics have repeatedly questioned Turkey's commitment to the war against IS, accusing it of being more interested in attacking the PKK.

Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani sees the PKK, which is moreover a key player in the anti-jihadist effort, as a rival in the Kurdish world.

The Kurdish region is politically divided & competing factions have often used the war on IS to advance party agendas.

Baghdad's relations with Turkey have improved recently yet remained strained by Ankara's relationship with Barzani & differences over the Syrian civil war.

Abadi has repeatedly said Iraq needs all the assist it can obtain to fight IS, yet he is moreover walking a fine line between receiving that support & projecting sovereignty.

The Turkish deployment is just the latest in a series of challenges over the past week that have pushed him to take a complex line on foreign forces helping Iraq against IS, which overran large parts of the country last year.

Calls from two American senators for the number of US troops in Iraq to be tripled, combined with Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter's announcement that Washington would send a special forces contingent to fight IS in Iraq & Syria, put Abadi under heavy pressure.

Shiite paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed militias came out strongly against the US, & Abadi issued his own series of increasingly strident statements approximately foreign forces.

Source: “AFP”