PM Yıldırım to Iraq: Be a state first, then criticize Turkey

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Turkish Prime Minister and the leader of Turkey's ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Binali Yildirim. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has strongly reacted to ongoing criticism from Baghdad about a Turkish military presence at the Bashiqa base in northern Iraq, saying Iraq should be a state first before criticizing Turkey.

“The government [Iraqi government] has been silent while many countries which have no physical or spiritual ties with the region have been active there. But we see they [Iraqi government] become restive when Turkey is interested in the issue. The person who talks about this must protect their country first. You should know what it means to be a state first, then criticize Turkey. If you do not do this first, what you say will be a bit humorous,” said Yıldırım during a speech at İstanbul Technical University on Monday.

“If you continue harboring terrorist organizations and elements which do not contribute to the solution of any problems in your country, of course Turkey will take all measures to protect its borders and the lives and assets of its citizens. It has the right to do that,” added Yıldırım.

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 on Oct. 4 to remove the Turkish troops, by force if needed, and described the Turkish units as an “invading force.” The decision then prompted mutual recriminations between the two countries and the summoning of ambassadors.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned Turkey that it may cause a regional war by maintaining a military presence in Iraq and called for an immediate withdrawal.

Yıldırım defied al-Abadi’s remarks, saying that Turkish troops will remain in Iraq to continue the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“Whatever the Iraqi government in Baghdad says, the Turkish presence there [in the Bashiqa region] will remain for the fight against ISIL and to make sure that the demographic structure of the region is not being changed by force,” said Yıldırım.

Iraq has requested an emergency UN Security Council session over the presence of Turkish troops at the Bashiqa army base north of Mosul in northern Iraq, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Oct. 6.

Turkey has an estimated 2,000 troops in Iraq, around 500 of them at the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq training Iraqi fighters who hope to participate in the battle to recapture Mosul, according to the Turkish media.

US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner on Oct. 5 urged Turkey to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity soon after the Iraqi prime minister warned Turkey not to trigger a regional war by maintaining a military presence in Iraq.

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