Iraq-Turkey tensions soar over impending Mosul operation

AFP , Wednesday 5 Oct 2016

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, October 3, 2016. Picture taken October 3, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Iraq and Turkey on Wednesday were summoning their respective ambassadors in an increasingly acrimonious dispute between the two neighbours ahead of a planned operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamist militants.

Ankara called in the Iraqi ambassador while Baghdad said it had decided to summon the Turkish envoy following bitter verbal exchanges, the two foreign ministries said.

The Turkish parliament at the weekend extended by one year a government mandate allowing its troops to deploy on Iraqi soil -- as well as Syrian territory -- a decision the Iraqi parliament then rejected, calling for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned of possible sectarian consequences arising from the Mosul operation, prompting the Iraqi foreign ministry to summon the Turkish ambassador over "provocative Turkish statements on the battle to liberate Mosul."

Mosul, Iraq's second city, was seized by the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014 after multiple Iraqi divisions collapsed when faced with the Islamist militant assault.

But Baghdad is now planning, with help from the US-led coalition against IS, a major operation to retake the city, and Ankara has made clear it does not want to the left on the sidelines.

Ankara has an undisclosed number of troops in the Bashiqa camp training Iraqi fighters who hope to take part in the fight to recapture Mosul.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the troops were in no way there with the aim of being an "occupying force".

"Where was the Iraqi government when Daesh (IS) captured Mosul in a day... We have difficulty understanding this decision (of the Iraqi parliament)," he sniped.

The Turkish foreign ministry called the parliament's decision "unacceptable".

Erdogan suggested at the weekend any liberation of Mosul had to be conducted by those with ethnic and religious ties to the city, objecting to the use of Shiite militiamen or anti-Ankara Kurdish forces.

Turkey is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country with increasingly close ties to Sunni Muslim kingpin Saudi Arabia.

As he did with regard to Syria, Erdogan indicated he was particularly troubled by any use of fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a 32-year insurgency inside Turkey and whose paramilitary headquarters are in northern Iraq.

"The game played by Shiite militias and members of the terrorist organisation linked to the PKK -- in complete contradiction of the region's sectarian and ethnic structure, its cultural sensitivities -- must be disrupted," he said.

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