Both the Turkish government and Kurdish Peshmerga forces say the Turks participated in the liberation of Bashiqa, a town eight miles from the regional Islamic State (ISIS) capital of Mosul. The Iraqi government has vehemently denied a Turkish role in the Mosul operation.
“Peshmerga forces took action to clear the town of Bashiqa from Daesh [the Islamic State]. … They asked for help from our troops at the Bashiqa camp and we are supporting them with artillery, tanks and Firtina howitzers,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Sunday.
Turkey has hundreds of troops stationed in Bashiqa, allegedly to help train Kurdish Peshmerga and 2,000 troops throughout Iraq. While Ankara and Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, maintain friendly relations, the official Iraqi government in Baghdad has repeatedly demanded the Turks leave, claiming a violation of national sovereignty.
Of the Bashiqa operation, the Iraqi government said in a statement, “The spokesman of the Joint Operations Command denies Turkish participation of any kind in operations for the liberation of Nineveh,” referring to the greater northern region of Iraq. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued one of the more civil statements against Turkey that his government had in a while regarding a Turkish presence in the country: “I know that the Turks want to participate. … We tell them ‘thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul.'”
Abadi had previously accused his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “invading” Iraq and threatened a “regional war” between the two sides. Shiite militias allied with Baghdad have called Turkish troops “occupiers,” despite being invited into the territory by the Iraqi Kurds, and threatened to attack them.
Erdogan, in turn, dismissed Abadi as “not on my level” and insisted Turkey will have a role in the Mosul operation. In Bashiqa, local Sunni militias claimed earlier this month that the Turks were there only in a training and advisory role, but wer not fighting. The invitation to enter the Bashiqa battle appears to have come from Sunni Kurdish militiamen, not Sunni Arabs. Turkey has expressed concerns that Shiite militias participating in the fight against the Islamic State will attempt to ethnically cleanse the liberated towns of Sunni Muslims, engaging in crimes against humanity in the process.
American Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, in Ankara Friday, said he believed Turkey, a NATO member country, should have a role in the fight to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State. “There’s an agreement there in principle, but now we have to work down to practicalities,” he said of Turkish participation in the mission to eradicate the jihadist group. “I think that Iraq understands that Turkey is a member of the counter-ISIL coalition and that it will play a role in the counter-ISIL operations in Iraq.” In Baghdad, Carter did not mention the Turkish deal, instead noting that the U.S. was willing and able to help the Iraqi military fulfill its mission to eradicate the Islamic State.
“I think that we’re hopeful there is a way to build them into the process, but that’s something we really need to feel out with the Iraqis,” an anonymous U.S. official told the Washington Post.
By all accounts, securing the town of Bashiqa was a difficult mission for the Peshmerga. “The suicide car bombs were very strong and we suffered many casualties,” Jamal Bayaz, a Peshmerga soldier fighting in Bashiqa, told the Guardian. “We had anti-tank ammunition, but the area was hilly and we missed the ISIS units. We were lucky at least once, when a suicide bomber attacked but his vehicle broke down before he reached us.”