In a defiant move, Turkey has said point blank that it will not withdraw the hundreds of soldiers it deployed last week to a base in northern Iraq, despite Baghdad ordering it to do so within 48 hours.
The capital of Turkey, Ankara, claims its troops are there as part of a multi-national mission to equip and train Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. The Iraqi government counters that it never invited Turkey to send such a force, and will contact the United Nations if Turkey does not pull its troops out.
The United States has told the Iraqi and Turkish governments to work it out and resolve the mess. The U.S. further said it does not offer its support to deployments in Iraq without the consent of Baghdad.
From the standpoint of Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, the presence of Turkish troops is an embarrassment. Al-Abadi is already under immense pressure from the powerful Iran-supported Shia politicians to force the troops out.
The Iran-backed Shia parties have also complained about the United States’ plans to put special forces in Iraq in order to guide bombs and conduct raids against ISIS. Political pressure placed on al-Abadi could make it difficult for the U.S. to carry out those plans.
Political analysts viewed the deployment by Turkey as an effort to assert its prowess and influence in the wake of increased Iranian and Russian involvement in Iraq and Syria.
Aydın Selcen, a former consul general of Turkey, observed that, “Turkey seems to be angling to prove to the Russians and Iranians that they will not be allowed to have either the Syrian or Iraqi war theaters only to themselves.”
The Turkish troops arrived in Iraq on Thursday with armored carriers and tanks at a camp in an area held by Iraqi Kurds located close to Mosul, which is currently held by ISIS. Turkey said the troops were there to assist in protecting a training mission near the frontline.
The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, told reporters that, “It is our duty to provide security for our soldiers providing training there. 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.”
Al-Abadi called the Turkish deployment a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. Saad al-Hadithi, an Iraqi government spokesperson, said that his government is still waiting for Ankara to officially respond.
He said that, “In case we have not received any positive signs before the deadline we set for the Turkish side, then we maintain our legal right to file a complaint to the [UN] security council to stop this serious violation to Iraqi sovereignty.”
A top Turkish official said that Baghdad’s anger and objections are very surprising: “There was no single development ... that happened without informing the central government.”
The official told reporters that, “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.”