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Diplomatic rift widens between Turkey, Iraq over Turkish forces near Mosul

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A diplomatic dispute erupted between Turkey and Iraq after Baghdad on Monday demanded an immediate pullout of Turkish forces from Iraqi territory, in response to Ankara’s decision in a weekend parliamentary motion to extend their presence for one more year.

The Iraqi decision prompted a swift condemnation from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

The Iraqi Parliament said on Monday that it does not accept a decision taken by the Turkish legislature on Oct. 1 to extend the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria for another year, a motion that gives authority to the Turkish government for cross-border military operations in both countries.

Iraqi lawmakers agreed in a parliamentary decision that they now regard the Turkish military presence in northern Iraq as illegal, describing the Turkish troops as an invading force. It calls for action, if needed, to ensure the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from Iraqi territory.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the parliamentary move as unhelpful and provocative.

The ministry said Turkey is helping Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and that the parliamentary move will only derail joint efforts to defeat the extremist group. Turkey also said Iraqi lawmakers have misunderstood the nature of the military presence, which is fighting ISIL and helping Iraqi forces.

Hakim al Zamili, the head of the Iraqi parliament’s defense and security committee, has long pressed for government action to ensure the withdrawal of Turkish forces deployed in the north to train local militia and Kurdish peshmerga against ISIL.

When additional Turkish forces entered Iraqi territory, deployed to a camp near Mosul last year, it sparked a crisis with the central government in Baghdad. Zamili described the Turkish troops as an invading force and demanded government action.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told media that Turkish forces must leave Iraqi territory.

Turkish media said the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad was summoned by Iraqi officials on Tuesday. 

In an early phase of the diplomatic dispute, Ankara said it had sent forces within the scope of an agreement with the central government in Baghdad to combat ISIL.

The Foreign Ministry statement underlined that the Oct. 1 motion is not the first of its kind and said Turkey has been passing similar motions since 2007 in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq. Turkey sees the PKK as a terrorist group, and PKK militants have launched cross-border attacks against Turkish military posts on the Iraqi-Turkish border, prompting military retaliation. Turkish F-16 fighter jets constantly strike PKK positions in the Kandil Mountains.

How the Iraqi government will ensure the withdrawal of Turkish forces and whether there will be military action to that aim remains to be seen. Zamili had previously called for airstrikes on the Turkish forces.

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