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Turkish troops to remain in Iraq despite Baghdad's objections

Binali Yildirim said Iraq does not have the right to object [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 October, 2016

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Turkey's prime minister said Thursday that Ankara's troops will remain in Iraq despite Baghdad describing them as an "occupying force" and calling for a Security Council meeting on the matter.

Turkey said Thursday that its troops will remain in Iraq despite Baghdad's growing anger ahead of a planned operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State jihadists.

Baghdad has accused Ankara of risking a regional war by moving forces inside Iraq without the government’s consent, with the dispute complicating plans for the ambitious American-backed Mosul operation.

"No matter what the Iraqi government in Baghdad says, a Turkish presence will remain there to fight against Daesh (IS), and to avoid any forceful change of the demographic composition in the region," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in televised comments.

Turkey has an estimated 2,000 troops in Iraq - around 500 of them in the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq, according to Turkish media.

The Turkish parliament on Saturday extended a government mandate by one year, allowing its troops to remain on both Iraqi and Syrian soil.

The Iraqi parliament labelled the Turkish troops an "occupying force", while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi raised fears that Turkey's move could lead to "regional war".

In protest, Ankara summoned the Iraqi ambassador and Baghdad was summoning the Turkish envoy in a tit-for-tat move.

Yildirim on Thursday said Baghdad's reaction was not in "good faith".

"It's not the (Iraqi) government's right to speak like that," he said.

"When troops from 63 countries are present there [the international coalition], it is unreasonable [for the Iraqi government] to focus on Turkey's presence."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was in Iraq to help work towards Baghdad's stability and security.

"Certainly we do not want to get into a vicious circle (of words) with Iraq but God-willing, the Iraqi government will come to this understanding shortly", he told a press conference in Ankara on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Baghdad on Thursday said it is asking for an emergency Security Council 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 of the operation to take back Mosul.

Turkish forces are believed to be concentrated in territory controlled by the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, whose government has close relations with Ankara and where Baghdad's authority does not hold sway.

The rising tension between Ankara and Baghdad could threaten the planned major US-backed operation by the Iraqi army to retake Mosul which was captured by IS group in 2014.

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