World News

Shi'ite militias threaten Turkey over incursion into Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Shi’ite paramilitary groups with ties to Iran threatened to use force against Turkey on Wednesday unless it withdraws its troops from Iraqi territory, after a 48-hour deadline set by the government expired.

Fighters from the Shi'ite Badr Brigade militia set up a mobile checkpoint in Suleiman Beg, northern Iraq September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Turkey deployed a contingent of troops to a camp near the frontline in northern Iraq last week, provoking an outcry in Baghdad, which condemned it as a violation of sovereignty and asked NATO to intervene.

The area north of Mosul where the Turkish troops are stationed is under the control of Kurdish forces and Shi’ite militia have no presence there, which would make it difficult for them to follow through on the threats.

But it puts additional pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who was already under fire from the same Shi’ite factions over an announcement by the United States that it will send a new special operations force to conduct raids in Iraq.

Badr Brigade spokesman Karim al-Nuri likened the Turkish incursion with the occupation of Iraq by Islamic State militants and said “all options” were available.

“We have the right to respond and we do not exclude any type of response until the Turks have learned their lesson,” Nuri said. “Do they have a dream of restoring Ottoman greatness? This is a great delusion and they will pay dearly because of Turkish arrogance.”

Ankara says the troops are there as part of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight Islamic State and will not withdraw them, although it said on Tuesday it would send no more. Baghdad says it never invited such a force.

In the Iraqi parliament on Wednesday, a motion condemning the Turkish intervention was approved unanimously, supporting the government in taking whatever measures it viewed as appropriate.

Several MPs suggested Iraq could wage “economic war” on Turkey, but Jafaar Hussaini, a spokesman for one of the Shi’ite armed groups, Kata’ib Hezbollah, said violence was likely.

“We say that they military option is still probable and we might reach a stage in the next few days where we start carrying out operations against the Turks, be it against their soldiers or Turkish interests in Iraq.”

In September, 16 Turkish workers were abducted in Baghdad by an unknown armed group that used a familiar Shi’ite slogan and threatened to attack Turkish interests in Iraq if its demands were not met. The men were eventually released.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Angus MacSwan