Erdoğan says Turkish troops not leaving Iraq yet

Erdoğan says Turkish troops not leaving Iraq yet

Erdoğan says Turkish troops not leaving Iraq yet

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to the media during a joint news conference with Chairman of Bosnian tripartite Presidency Dragan Covic and member of Bosnian tripartite Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic in Ankara, Turkey, Dec. 10, 2015. AA Photo

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 10 said it was "out of the question for the moment" that Turkish troops would withdraw from Iraq, after Baghdad accused Ankara of sending them in without permission.

The row has badly soured relations and saw the Turkish ambassador to Iraq summoned on Dec. 5 to demand that Turkey immediately withdraw hundreds of troops deployed in recent days in northern Iraq, near the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) -controlled city of Mosul. 

Iraq's foreign ministry said Turkish forces had entered Iraqi territory without the knowledge of Baghdad, which viewed their presence as a "hostile act". 

Speaking at a news conference, Erdoğan said the troops were there to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters and not for combat purposes. He reiterated an earlier statement that they had been deployed following an invitation by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last year. 

"The number of our soldiers (in northern Iraq) might increase or decrease depending on the number of peshmerga being trained," Erdoğan stated. 

"Withdrawing our soldiers is out of the question for the moment." 

Erdoğan said there would be a trilateral meeting between Turkey, the United States and Kurdish northern Iraqi authorities on Dec. 21 but made no mention of talks with Baghdad. 

Later on Dec. 10, prime ministerial sources said PM Ahmet Davutoğlu had at the request of U.S. officials spoken to Vice President Joe Biden. 

Davutoğlu told Biden that Turkey co-ordinating with Iraq in its efforts to tackle ISIL, and that a letter to the Iraqi prime minister laying out the Turkish position was being delivered by a high-level delegation which included Turkey's spy chief, Hakan Fidan. 

"He expressed that Turkey will continue to contribute to the government of our friend Iraq's fight against [ISIL], in coordination with Baghdad," one source added. The White House confirmed the call had taken place. 

Speaking to his counterpart earlier this week, the Turkish foreign minister emphasised Ankara's respect for Iraqi territorial integrity and said further troop deployments had been halted for now. 

The furore is the latest blow to Turkey's beleaguered regional relations. Ties with former allies Egypt and Libya are troubled, and Ankara is trying to defuse a row with Moscow after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane last month.