BAGHDAD – Iraq has requested an emergency U.N. Security Council session over the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday, a development that highlights increasing tension between the two neighbours.
Turkey however, remained defiant, with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowing on Thursday to maintain Turkish troop presence “no matter what Baghdad says.”
Turkey-Iraq relations became strained after Ankara sent troops late last year to the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, to train anti-Islamic State fighters there — a move Baghdad labeled a “blatant violation” of its sovereignty. Iraq has demanded a Turkish withdrawal but Ankara has ignored the call.
Baghdad is now asking the Security Council for the emergency session to discuss “Turkish violations on the Iraqi soil and the interference in its internal affairs,” said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ahmad Jamal.
Jamal said Iraq also asked the council to “shoulder its responsibility and adopt a resolution to end to the Turkish troops’ violation of Iraq’s sovereignty” and “intensify international support” ahead a major Iraqi military operation to take back Mosul from the Islamic State group.
In Ankara, Yildirim, the prime minister, said Turkish troops would stay in northern Iraq to prevent “efforts to forcibly change the demographic structure in the region” — an apparent reference to Turkish fears that once Mosul is liberated from IS, Kurds or Shiite groups may take Mosul over and push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmens.
“It is a waste of time for the Iraqi government to focus on Turkey’s presence there, when there are troops from 63 different countries” to fight IS, Yildirim said.
The spokesman of the U.S.-led international coalition, which consists of 65 nations, Col. John Dorrian told a press conference in Baghdad on Thursday that the Turkish forces stationed in Iraq are not part of the coalition, but on their own. Dorrian added that the coalition position is that every force “should be here with the co-ordination or and with the permission of the government of Iraq.”
Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed Ankara’s willingness to join the imminent battle for Mosul. Yildirim later warned that the operation could spark Shiite-Sunni sectarian tensions if the majority Sunni region around Mosul were to be placed under Shiite militia control after the offensive.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament adopted a resolution denouncing the extension of Turkish troops’ presence, asking the government to consider them as “occupation forces.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Ankara’s insistence on maintaining troops in Iraq could lead to “regional warfare.”
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is the Islamic State group’s last remaining urban stronghold in Iraq. The government is now gearing up for the Mosul offensive and has pledged to recapture the city from IS this year.
Associated Press writers Maya Alleruzzo in Baghdad and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.