Turkey: 150 Troops Deployed to Iraq This Week Will Remain, Despite Protests

Binnur Ege Gurun / Anadolu Agency / AFP
Binnur Ege Gurun / Anadolu Agency / AFP

The Turkish government has clarified that it will not move the 150 soldiers deployed to northern Iraq from their position near Mosul, despite protests from the Iraqi government, though it will not double that amount as previously planned.

A senior Turkish official tells the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that, despite news surfacing Monday that Turkey would no longer execute a plan to deploy up to 300 troops to northern Iraq to help train Kurdish Peshmerga forces, those already en route would not be recalled to Turkey. “We expect them to remain,” he said.

“It will depend on discussions but obviously our forces, as we know from the officers on the ground, from the demands of different groups over there, from what we are discussing with the central government and from what we have discussed with the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), they will stay,” the official added. In addition to his statement, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed in a televised statement the position of the Turkish government, which, he said, is a “duty to provide security for our soldiers providing training” in the area, and that such a deployment was necessary for their security.

While apparently contradicting a Turkish government statement Monday, the official is actually clarifying the status of soldiers not mentioned in Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s statement: those neither in Turkey nor stationed in Mosul, but on their way there. On Monday, Davutoglu stated in a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that “no further forces will be deployed to Bashiqa [Mosul] until concerns of the Iraqi government are overcome.” That does not mean that, as of Monday, the Turkish troop presence in Mosul will not have grown, but merely that the government will not complete a full deployment.

The Iraqi government issued a stern warning following the announcement that more Turkish troops would be heading east. “This is considered a grave violation to Iraq’s sovereignty and does not respect good neighborly relations between Iraq and Turkey,” Abadi said in a statement, urging Turkey to “withdraw immediately.” It gave Turkey 48 hours to exit Iraq entirely.

Davutoglu had previously stated in the media that the Iraqi Defense Ministry requested the Turkish troops to help protect others training Kurdish Peshmerga in the region. He has also expressed an interest in visiting Baghdad and discussing any tensions between the two governments in person.

Abadi’s Shiite government is allied with the Syrian government of dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose Foreign Ministry disparaged Turkey’s move as “brazen” and “a flagrant act of intervention.” Also objecting to a stronger Turkish presence near the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, which maintains friendly relations with Turkey, is the Russian government, which called any further deployment near the KRG “illegal” and called for Turkey to retreat.

Iraqi Shiite militias have also taken a hard stance against the presence of American troops in the region to fight the Islamic State. “We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq. Any such American force will become a primary target for our group,” a militia leader told Reuters last week, confirming they would give up the fight against ISIS to kill Americans if deployed there.

The governments of Turkey and Russia have extremely frayed diplomatic ties following multiple violations of Turkish sovereignty by Russian jets fighting Syrian rebels on the two nations’ border, culminating in the Turkish military’s decision to shoot down a Russian plane.