Iraqi PM asks NATO to press Turkey to pull troops from north Iraq

ANKARA (Reuters) - Iraq asked NATO on Tuesday to put pressure on alliance member Turkey to withdraw its troops immediately from northern Iraq after Ankara said it would not deploy any more but refused to pull out those already there.

A member of the Turkish security forces stands guard at a check point on the main road to southeastern town of Silvan, near Diyarbakir, Turkey, August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

The arrival of a heavily armed Turkish contingent near the frontline close to Mosul has added yet another controversial deployment to a war against Islamic State that has drawn in most of the world’s major powers.

“NATO must use its authority to urge Turkey to withdraw immediately from Iraqi territory,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement, posted after a 48-hour deadline set by Baghdad for a withdrawal of the troops expired.

Abadi spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg by telephone, the statement added, calling the deployment a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

Russia, already furious with Ankara after the Turkish airforce shot down one of its jets flying over Syria last month, said it considered the Turkish force’s presence in Iraq illegal.

Ankara says its troops are in Iraq to train Iraqi forces. “Training at this camp began with the knowledge of the Iraqi defense ministry and police,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a meeting of deputies from his ruling AK Party.

The foreign ministry said Turkey had stopped the deployment two days ago due to the “sensitivities” of Iraqi authorities.

Baghdad has denied it knew about the mission. Russia has asked the United Nations Security Council to hold closed-door discussions, due later on Tuesday, on Turkish military action in both Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon urged Turkey and Iraq to resolve the issue diplomatically, and noted the Turkish deployment was not part of a U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State.

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“We just encourage both sides to resolve their differences here, whatever disagreements there may be,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said at a news briefing on Tuesday.

In a phone conversation with his Iraqi counterpart late on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasized Ankara’s respect for Iraq’s territorial integrity, spokesman Tanju Bilgic told reporters.

“He (Cavusoglu) said that our activities aimed to contribute to the struggle against Daesh (Islamic State) in Iraq and reiterated that the deployment had stopped,” Bilgic said. “There is no withdrawal at the moment, but the deployment has stopped.”

Davutoglu said he wanted to visit Baghdad soon to calm the row, saying the troops were intended to protect the training mission against attack by Islamic State.

“Those who make different interpretations of the Turkish military presence in Mosul are involved in deliberate provocation,” he told the deputies.


Davutoglu made clear the sharp deterioration in ties with Russia also remained high on the agenda.

“We are ready for talks and every kind of exchange of ideas with Russia but will never allow anything to be dictated to us,” he said. “In the face of Russia’s sanctions, we will implement our own sanctions if we regard it necessary.”

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Russia has imposed a raft of economic sanctions on Turkey since its fighter jet was shot down near the Syrian-Turkish border last month in disputed circumstances. Davutoglu has vowed steps to support Turkey’s exporters and tourism sector.

Russia’s increasing involvement in the Syrian conflict has put it at odds with Turkey, which has strongly supported rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that this support would continue, reiterating a demand for the creation of “safe zones” in northern Syria to protect displaced civilians and stop the flow of refugees.

Davutoglu for his part criticized “insults and attacks” directed at Turkey from within Iran, which, like Russia, is giving Assad wide-ranging military support.

He did not specify which comments he meant, but said: “If these attitudes continue, the traditional Turkey-Iran friendship will suffer great harm.”

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul, Isabel Coles in Erbil, Saif Hameed in Baghdad, and Yeganeh Torbati and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Frances Kerry