Iraq calls on Turkey to 'immediately' withdraw its troops in Mosul

Iraq calls on Turkey to 'immediately' withdraw its troops in Mosul

Iraq calls on Turkey to immediately withdraw its troops in Mosul

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum delivers a speech during the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference in Paris. REUTERS photo

Baghdad on Dec. 5 demanded the immediate withdrawal of forces it said Turkey “illegally” sent into Iraq, which is struggling to assert its sovereignty while receiving foreign assistance against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Agence France-Presse reported.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu played down the military activity as "routine rotation activity" and "reinforcement against security risks", while also labelling any misinterpretation as a "provocation."

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which has forces in the area where the Turkish troops deployed and close ties with Ankara, indicated that Turkey aimed to expand the camp.

The troops, whom Baghdad said had tanks and artillery, were sent to a camp near the main ISIL hub of Mosul, where Turkey has been training Sunni fighters hoping to retake the city from the jihadists.

Turkey has other camps in Iraq but they are inside the official borders of the autonomous Kurdish region.

The base near Mosul is in a disputed area claimed by both the KRG and Baghdad.

Facing political pressure as a result of statements by American officials, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has taken an increasingly hard public line on foreign forces in Iraq, terming the deployment of ground combat forces a "hostile act."

"The Iraqi authorities call on Turkey to... immediately withdraw from Iraqi territory," a statement from Abadi's office said.

"We have confirmation that Turkish forces, numbering about one armored regiment with a number of tanks and artillery, entered Iraqi territory... allegedly to train Iraqi groups, without a request or authorization from Iraqi federal authorities," it said.

The deployment "is considered a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty," it added.

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum on Dec. 5 also called the deployment of the Turkish troops inside Iraq near the northern city of Mosul "a violation of international norms and law." 

In an online statement, Massoum also called on Turkey to withdraw the troops and asked Iraq's Foreign Ministry to take the necessary measures "to preserve the country's sovereignty and independence," according to Reuters. 

A local Kurdish commander described the deployment as a routine rotation by Turkish trainers, but a subsequent statement by the KRG pointed to increased Turkish activity.

"The Turkish government has over the past few days sent necessary experts and equipment with the aim of expanding this camp," the statement said.

Mosul, which is predominantly Sunni Arab, is a key center of ISIL's self-proclaimed "caliphate," but an operation to retake the city remains a distant prospect.

Davutoğlu said there were no plans for a new camp.

Rather, it is a pre-existing "training facility established to support local volunteer forces' fight against terrorism", set up in coordination with the Iraqi defense ministry, he said.

The foreign ministry in Baghdad issued a statement that made no mention of the fight against ISIL but simply condemned an illegal "military campaign" on Iraqi soil.

Turkey has also conducted dozens of air raids in recent months against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq.