Turkey to train Iraqi Kurds

The announcement comes after Turkey has been criticised for not doing enough to fight ISIL.
An ISIL fighter loads a mortar shell during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, 115 kilometers west of Baghdad on November 22. AP
An ISIL fighter loads a mortar shell during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, 115 kilometers west of Baghdad on November 22. AP

BAGHDAD // Turkey is training Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq, a senior Turkish official said on Saturday.

Ankara will also give similar assistance to a new national army unit in Baghdad as part of the struggle against ISIL.

Turkish soldiers began training Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq three weeks ago, peshmerga spokesman Brigadier General Halgurd Hikmat said. The Turkish official said similar assistance would be given to Iraq’s National Guard.

“Turkey has already started training peshmerga forces in northern Iraq ... and we have agreed to train and give assistance to the National Guard,” the official said.

Turkey, which shares a 1,200 kilometre border with Syria and Iraq, has refused to take a front line military role in the US-led coalition against the ISIL insurgents, arguing air strikes alone will not bring lasting stability.

It has drawn criticism for letting thousands of foreign fighters cross its borders in its haste to see Syrian president Bashar Al Assad toppled, and for doing little to end the ISIIL siege of the Syrian border town of Kobani.

Ankara argues there can be no peace with Mr Al Assad in power and that Syria needs to follow the lead of Iraq, where a new government under prime minister Haider Al Abadi is seeking to build a cohesive force to push back ISIL fighters.

“We have said many times we want a comprehensive strategy. It is impossible to stop these terrorists only by bombing. If you try to kill the mosquitoes it will not work, you have to dry the swamp,” a second Turkish official said.

Turkey and the United States has also agreed to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels fighting both ISIL and Mr Al Assad’s forces, although the details of how many and exactly where they will be trained have yet to be finalised.

The US on Saturday pledged an additional $135 million in aid for the victims of the war, much of it to help the United Nations with a funding shortfall. The announcement came as US vice-president Joe Biden met with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul to discuss a transition of power in Syria away from Mr Al Assad.

“On Syria, we discussed ... not only to deny ISIL a safe haven and roll back and defeat them, but also strengthen the Syrian opposition and ensure a transition away from the Assad regime,” Mr Biden told a joint news conference with Mr Erdogan.

Air strikes by US-led forces in Syria have killed 910 people, including 52 civilians, since the start of the campaign against ISIL and other fighters two months ago, a group monitoring the conflict said.

The majority of the deaths, 785, were ISIL fighters according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Eight of the civilians killed were children and five were women. The US has said it takes reports of civilian casualties seriously and says it has a process to investigate any reports of such deaths.

The Observatory, which gathers its information from a network of contacts on the ground, said 72 members of Al Qaeda’s Syria wing Al Nusra Front were also killed in the air strikes, which started on September 23.

According to the United Nations, around 200,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which is in its fourth year.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said that ISIL militants have killed 25 members of a Sunni tribe during their assault on a provincial capital west of Baghdad, in apparent revenge for tribal opposition to the radical Islamists.

They said the bodies of the men from the Albu Fahd tribe were discovered after the army launched a counter-offensive on Saturday against ISIL in a village on the eastern edge of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province.

The killings echoed the execution of hundreds of members of the Albu Nimr tribe last month by ISIL fighters trying to break local resistance to their advances in Anbar, a Sunni province they have largely controlled for nearly a year.

“While they were combing the territories they are liberating, security forces found 25 corpses in the Shujariya area,” said Hathal Al Fahdawi, a member of the Anbar Provincial Council.

Albu Fahd tribal leader Sheikh Rafie Al Fahdawi said at least 25 bodies had been found and said he expected the total to be significantly higher. He said the bodies were found scattered around with no signs of weapons next to them, suggesting they were not killed during fighting.

Ramadi have been outside government control since January, but ISIL struck on Friday with hours of shelling, car bombs and attacks by gunmen from four different directions in a bid to take more ground.

By Saturday, most of the fighting was over, but clashes were still taking place in southern Ramadi, a city that is one of the last major population centres of Anbar still under government control.

* Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

Published: November 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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