Iraq PM says Turkish troop problem solved soon

AFP , Saturday 7 Jan 2017

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (Photo: AFP)

Iraq and Turkey's prime ministers held talks Saturday in Baghdad which both said reflected progress in resolving a bitter row over the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said at a joint press conference after meeting Turkey's Binali Yildirim that the issue would be solved soon.

"The prime minister and the delegation accompanying him confirmed that this issue will be solved in a satisfactory manner soon," he said.

Turkey has for some time maintained troops at a base near Bashiqa, a town just northeast of Mosul, and reinforcements dispatched there in 2015 led to a deterioration in relations between the two neighbours.

Baghdad has accused Turkey of violating its sovereignty but Ankara has insisted rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in northern Iraq should be dealt with.

Yildirim on Saturday said Abadi had provided such assurances.

"This is very important for us. We were very pleased with this and it shows in the best way what we can do in the fight against terror," he told reporters.

The PKK, a Turkish organisation, and its local allies control key areas in the Sinjar region, which lies between Mosul and Syria, south of the Turkish border.

Ankara has blamed a number of recent deadly attacks in Turkey on the PKK and has hinted it would not hesitate to cross the border to hunt down the Kurdish separatists.

Abadi said he had a deal with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region for its forces to establish control over the Sinjar area.

"It should be under the full control of Iraqi forces and any outside forces are not allowed to control this area," Abadi said.

Yildirim said his government was committed to respecting and supporting Iraq's sovereignty.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi forces on October 17 launched a broad offensive, the country's largest in years, to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

The Turkish troops based outside Bashiqa, which was recaptured from IS in November 2016, have offered some artillery support but largely stayed out of the battle.

Ankara has insisted Mosul must keep its Sunni Arab Muslim majority which it had before IS took over the city from woefully unprepared Iraqi troops in 2014.

Yildirim suggested that Turkey would pull its troops out of Bashiqa once the battle for Mosul is over.

While Abadi has said a victory in Mosul could take three more months, many observers argue the timetable is optimistic.

Exactly which Iraqi forces secure the city will also be significant, with Turkey particularly wary of Shiite-dominated militias loyal to Tehran attempting to gain a foothold in northern Iraq.

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