Turkey will ignore Iraq over Mosul plans, says Turkish president

Worsening relations get personal as Turkish president tells the Iraqi leader he is "of no importance."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at a meeting on Islam in Eurasia in Istanbul, Tuesday, October. 11, 2016. Erdogan says his country is determined to take part in a possible operation to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul despite objections from Iraq. Kayhan Ozer, Presidential Press Service / AP
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ANKARA // Turkey will not be excluded from a possible operation to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul, Turkey’s president said on Tuesday, telling Iraq’s prime minister he should “know his place”.

“You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, you are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, addressing prime minister Haider Al Abadi.

“Your screaming and shouting in Iraq is of no importance to us. You should know that we will go our own way.”

Mr Erdogan also said the Turkish army would not take orders from Baghdad and would not withdraw from a base in the region of Bashiqa, north-east of Mosul. Turkey is training anti-ISIL fighters at the base to help retake Mosul from the extremist group.

In response, Mr Al Abadi’s spokesman said the Turkish president was “pouring oil on the fire”.

“It seems that Turkey is not serious about solving the problem with Iraq,” said Saad Al Hadithi, adding that Mr Erdogan’s remarks had made an issue of law and security into a “problem of a personal nature”.

Relations between the two countries — who are both key US partners in the fight against ISIL — became strained late last year after Ankara sent troops to the base in Bashiqa, a move Baghdad has since labelled a “blatant violation” of its sovereignty. Iraq has demanded a Turkish withdrawal, but Ankara has repeatedly ignored the call.

Turkish warnings about possible sectarian clashes in Mosul if the majority Sunni region is placed under Shiite militia control have also angered Baghdad. Last week, both countries summoned each other’s ambassadors while Iraq requested an emergency session of the UN Security Council over the presence of unauthorised Turkish troops in the north of the country.

Addressing Muslim leaders from the Balkans and Central Asia in Istanbul on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan said it was Mr Al Abadi himself who had asked Turkey to train fighters at the Bashiqa base back in 2014.

Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim, meanwhile, again warned that any operation to free Mosul should not lead to any demographic change. Turkey is worried that once Mosul is liberated from ISIL, Kurds or Shiite groups may take over the city and push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmens.

“We have explained to all of our friends that the operation planned for Mosul should be limited to removing Daesh,” Mr Yildirim said.

“If you, after removing Daesh, attempt to change Mosul’s demographic structure, you will light the fire of a very big civil war, of a sectarian war. This is our warning.”

In Iraq on Tuesday, thousands of Iraqi security personnel were deployed in and around Karbala to protect hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims flocking to the city for annual mourning rituals.

Shiites in Iraq have come under frequent attack by ISIL militants who regard them as heretics. The extremist group still controls some territory in Anbar province, to the west of Karbala, though attacks in the city itself are rare.

Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, is buried in Karbala, and Shiite pilgrims pack the city each year for Ashura commemorations, which mark his death in the 7th century.

According to police spokesman Colonel Alaa Al Ghanimi, some 30,000 security personnel are taking part in efforts to guard the city and its surroundings.

* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse