Iraq wants Turkish troops out of its territory

Turkish troops have been training Iraqis to fight ISIS. But now Iraqi leaders say Turkey is violating its sovereignty.

(AP Photo/Osama Sami)
Iraqi security forces take combat position at the front-line with Islamic State group militants as Iraqi Army and allied Sunni volunteer tribal fighters supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes are tightened the siege of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. Iraq's military command has told civilians in the Islamic State-held Ramadi to leave the city, a sign that an operation may soon be underway to retake the provincial capital.

The presence of Turkish troops near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in northern Iraq is a "violation" of international law, Iraq's president said Saturday.

President Fuad Masum called the move a "violation of international norms, laws and Iraq'snational sovereignty," and said it was contributing to increased tensions in the region.

Hakim al-Zamili, the head of parliament's security and defense committee, went a step further, calling on Iraq's prime minister to launch airstrikes against the Turkish troops if they remained in Iraqi territory.

What's unclear is why Iraqi leaders are making an issue of Turkish troops now. 

Turkey has said a military battalion equipped with armored vehicles has been in the Bashiqa region close to Mosul in the northern Ninevah province for the last five months as part of a training mission to help forces fighting the Islamic State group.  The force is called Hashid Watani (national mobilization), which is made up of mainly Sunni Arab former Iraqi police and volunteers from Mosul, reports Reuters.

A senior Kurdish military officer based north of Mosul told Reuters that additional Turkish trainers had arrived at a camp in the area overnight on Thursday escorted by a Turkish protection force.

Mosul fell to the extremists in June 2014 amid a stunning collapse of Iraqi security forces. Plans to try to retake Mosul last spring were sidelined as the extremist group advanced on other fronts.

The founder of the training camp outside Mosul, former Ninevah governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, told The Associated Press that the Turkish trainers were at his base at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi. He said the Turkish forces are training but not arming Sunni fighters.

"They didn't give us any weapons even though we asked them to," he said. "We equipped this force from the black market with our own money and we believe they're the best force to liberate Mosul... These people will be very effective to hold ground because they are from there and there'll be no resistance to them from local people."

Sunni fighters in Ninevah and the western Anbar province say the Shiite-dominated government has failed to provide them with the support and weaponry needed to defeat the IS group. The government fears that arming Sunni tribes and militias could backfire. Sunni grievances were a key factor fueling the rise of the IS group, and many Sunnis initially welcomed the extremists as liberators.

The U.S.-led coalition launched 12 airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq on Friday, including two near Mosul targeting tactical units and fighting positions.

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Associated Press writers Susannah George in Baghdad and Balint Szlanko in Irbil, Iraqcontributed to this report.

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