BAGHDAD // Iraq has requested an emergency UN security council session over the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday in a development that highlights increasing tension between the two neighbours.
Turkey remained defiant with prime minister Binali Yildirim vowing on Thursday to maintain Turkish troop presence “no matter what Baghdad says”.
Turkey-Iraq relations became strained after Ankara sent troops late last year to the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul and close to Turkey’s border, to train anti-ISIL fighters there. Baghdad labelled the move a “blatant violation” of its sovereignty. Iraq has demanded a Turkish withdrawal but Ankara has ignored the call.
Baghdad is now asking the Security Council for the emergency session to discuss “Turkish violations on the Iraqi soil and the interference in its internal affairs”, said the foreign ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal.
Mr Jamal said Iraq also asked the council to “shoulder its responsibility and adopt a resolution to end to the Turkish troops’ violation of Iraq’s sovereignty” and “intensify international support” ahead a major Iraqi military operation to take back Mosul from the ISIL extremist group.
In Ankara, prime minister Mr Yildirim, said Turkish troops would stay in northern Iraq to prevent “efforts to forcibly change the demographic structure in the region” – an apparent reference to Turkish fears that once Mosul is liberated from ISIL, Kurds or Shiite groups may take Mosul over and push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmens.
“It is a waste of time for the Iraqi government to focus on Turkey’s presence there, when there are troops from 63 different countries” to fight ISIL, Mr Yildirim said.
Turkey says its military is in Iraq at the invitation of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, with which Ankara maintains solid ties. Baghdad says no such invitation was ever issued.
Most of the Turkish troops are at a base in Bashiqa, where they are helping to train Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and Sunni fighters.
The spokesman of the US-led international coalition, which consists of 65 nations, Col John Dorrian said in Baghdad on Thursday that the Turkish forces stationed in Iraq are not part of the coalition, but on their own.
Col Dorrian added that the coalition position is that every force “should be here with the coordination or and with the permission of the government of Iraq”.
Earlier this week, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed Ankara’s willingness to join the imminent battle for Mosul. Mr Yildirim later warned that the operation could spark Shiite-Sunni sectarian tensions if the majority Sunni region around Mosul were to be placed under Shiite militia control after the offensive.
Turkey’s parliament voted last week to extend the deployment of an estimated 2,000 troops across northern Iraq by a year to combat “terrorist organisations” - a likely reference to Kurdish rebels as well as ISIL.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament adopted a resolution denouncing the extension of Turkish troops’ presence, asking the government to consider them as “occupation forces”.
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi said Ankara’s insistence on maintaining troops in Iraq could lead to “regional warfare”.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is ISIL’s last remaining urban stronghold in Iraq. The government is now gearing up for the Mosul offensive and has pledged to recapture the city from the militant group this year.
* Associated Press and Reuters