Turkey Rescinds Orders to Move Soldiers to Northern Iraq

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Turkey claimed it would not remove troops already in Iraq, but agreed not to send more as it continued to work with the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Iraqi officials threatened their northern neighbor with UN action if it did not remove soldiers inside Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Turkey deployed 150 soldiers and 20 tanks to the city on December 5.

“It is our duty to provide security for our soldiers providing training there,” declared Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. “Everybody is present in Iraq. … The goal of all of them is clear. Train-and-equip advisory support is being provided. Our presence there is not a secret.”

ISIS captured Mosul in June 2014. Turkish soldiers arrived in northern Iraq in November 2014 to help the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

But the latest influx distressed the Iraqi officials, giving Turkish soldiers “48 hours to withdraw forces” or they would use “all available options.”

“This is considered as a grave violation to Iraq’s sovereignty and does not respect good neighborly relations between Iraq and Turkey,” asserted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “Iraqi authorities call upon Turkey to withdraw immediately from Iraqi lands.”

Turkey quashed his claims.

“There was no single development … that happened without informing the central government,” a Turkish official told reporters. “The military personnel for training will stay. Not because we want them (there) particularly but because there is a demand from the Iraqi side. The discussion with the central government still continues.”

Explanations did not stop Abadi from threatening the NATO country with action from the UN Security Council. Turkey did not remove the soldiers, but decided not to send more troops.

“No further forces will be deployed to Bashiqa until concerns of the Iraqi government are overcome,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu wrote to Abadi. “Turkey is ready to deepen its cooperation with Iraq in coordination and consultation. Those who are disturbed by the cooperation of Turkey and Iraq and who want to end it should not be allowed to attain their goal.”

Turkey decided to join the U.S. coalition against ISIS this past summer after a suicide bomber murdered 32 people and injured 100 in Suruç at “a cultural centre hosting anti-Islamic State activists.” Those at the event were about to head to Kobane, a strategic Kurdish border town recently recaptured by Kurdish forces. Suruç is directly across the border from Kobane.

The government announced an airstrike campaign in Syria and gave America permission to use the Incirlik Air Base to strike ISIS in Syria. Turkey decided to also bomb the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), “a Marxist-Lenin terrorist group the Turkish government has vowed to eradicate along with ISIS.” While the Syrian Kurdish military allied itself with PKK, the Iraqi Kurds do not cooperate with PKK. The Turkish government “enjoys close relations with autonomous Kurdish regions in Iraq,” but not the Syrian Kurds. The rivalry between PKK and Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) traces back to the Iraqi Kurdish civil war in the 1990s.

In July, Barzani praised the Turkish attacks against the PKK in northern Iraq.

“The Turkish government has taken positive steps, and has adopted a positive attitude for a peaceful resolution; however, we have seen that some sides (the PKK) has taken [sic] it as a matter of pride and did not utilize these opportunities,” he stated.

However, a few days later, Barzani pushed Turkey Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and the PKK to abandon violence and “return to dialogue.” He agreed with Sinirlioğlu that ISIS is a “global threat” and that everyone should participate to eradicate the poisonous terrorist group.

“The fight against ISIS must not only be on a military level, but must also include ideological and economic warfare,” said Barzani. “Turkey’s involvement in this war conducted by the U.S.-led alliance will dramatically change the state of affairs.”