Iraq warns of regional war, demands pullout of Turkish troops

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A handout picture released on July 9, 2016 by the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office shows him (C) posing for a picture with army generals and members of the counter-terrorism forces in the capital Baghdad. / AFP PHOTO / IRAQI PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE /

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned Turkey that it may cause a regional war by maintaining a military presence in Iraq, calling for an immediate withdrawal as both countries summoned the other’s envoys in an escalating dispute.

Turkish troops in Iraq have been a contentious issue for some time, but a recent parliamentary motion that gives the Turkish government a mandate for cross-border operations in Syria and Iraq for another year sparked a backlash from Baghdad.

The Iraqi parliament decided to remove the Turkish troops, by force if needed, and described the Turkish units as an “invading force.” The Tuesday decision then prompted mutual recriminations between the two countries and the summoning of ambassadors.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the Iraqi action, while Baghdad conveyed its concerns and uneasiness to the Turkish ambassador about keeping troops in Iraq.

The crisis is bound to have repercussions for the impending Mosul operation. The Pentagon’s spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIL, Col. John Dorrian, had said that Turkish forces in northern Iraq are not a part of coalition forces.

“We have asked the Turkish side more than once not to intervene in Iraqi matters, and I fear the Turkish adventure could turn into a regional war,” Abadi warned in comments broadcast on state TV on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

“The Turkish leadership’s behavior is not acceptable, and we don’t want to get into a military confrontation with Turkey,” he said.

In an effort to defuse the tension, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said Turkey has no intention of intervening in the internal affairs of other countries.

“Iraq belongs to the Iraqis and Syria belongs to the Syrians,” he told reporters in İstanbul on Wednesday.

Turkey keeps a number of troops, as many as 2,000, at the Bashiqa camp near Mosul to train local Sunni militia and Kurdish peshmerga forces. The deployment of Turkish military trainers and additional forces took place as part of an agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which enjoys cordial ties with Ankara.

Kurtulmuş said the regional administration in Arbil asked for Turkey’s help in training forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

He said Turkey is ready to help in the fight against ISIL and other terrorist organizations.

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