Iraq fears ‘reckless step’ from Ankara as Turkish tanks charge across the border

Published November 2nd, 2016 - 09:00 GMT
Turkish tanks line up on a hill near the border with Syria as Daesh jihadists besieged Kobane in 2014. (AFP/Aris Messinis)
Turkish tanks line up on a hill near the border with Syria as Daesh jihadists besieged Kobane in 2014. (AFP/Aris Messinis)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday he feared a "reckless step" from Ankara after Turkish media reported that Turkey was deploying tanks and armoured vehicles from a key infantry brigade to the border between the two countries.

Al-Abadi reiterated his government's rejection of any Turkish involvement in the campaign to recapture the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh jihadists.

"The prohibition of any Turkish intervention remains," he told journalists after the reported deployment. "If Turkey enters the current battle with Daesh [Islamic State] we will deal with them as an enemy."

The two countries have been engaged in an escalating war of words as Iraqi forces backed by US-led airstrikes close in on Mosul, the only major Iraqi city still held by the jihadists.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted his country, which maintains troops in a base north-east of Mosul despite Baghdad's objections, should play a part in the campaign.

Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said Ankara was preparing for all eventualities, citing concerns about fights with militants inside the country and the unfolding situation over the border.

"This is an exercise to be prepared for all these developments. Turkey has to make arrangements for every possibility in advance," Isik said, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Meanwhile, Erdogan held an unscheduled three-and-a-half-hour meeting with his prime minister, Binali Yildirim, in Ankara. There was no immediate statement following the meeting.

The Iraqi side of the border is controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq, with whom Turkey generally maintains good relations.

Among Ankara's worries over the Mosul operation is the involvement of Shiite militias in the wider campaign against the extremist group.

Over the weekend, those militias began to oust Daesh from areas near Tel Afar, located about 90 kilometres from the Turkish border. Tel Afar is home to ethnic Turkmen, some of whom are Shia and others Sunni.

Al-Abadi said Iraq had received a message from Turkey about Tel Afar.

"We informed them that we have full regard for Tel Afar and its [various] communities. Regular Iraqi forces from all communities will enter it," al-Abadi said.

Erdogan, a Sunni, angered Iraqis in early October when he said that Shia Muslims should not be allowed to live in Mosul after Islamic State is driven out, and he has vowed to protect the Turkmens if they are victimized by militias.

Turkey is also angered over bases held in northern Iraq by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a militant group which has been locked in conflict with Ankara for decades in what it says is a struggle for the rights of the Kurdish minority in Turkey.

The PKK holds positions in Sinjar, close to Tel Afar. It moved into that area in 2014 to rescue members of the Yezidi minority who were being massacred and enslaved by Islamic State. The UN has since deemed the extremist group's actions genocide.

By Shabtai Gold and Kadham al-Attabi

© 2020 dpa GmbH

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