An Iraqi security official says the army may attack occupying Turkish forces deployed to the north should they intervene in an upcoming operation to liberate the city of Mosul from Daesh terrorists.
A senior Iraqi security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Baghdad “seeks to make clear that there is absolutely no role for Turkish forces in the Iraqi sphere,” the Middle East Eye (MEE) news portal reported Thursday.
“Any movement or intervention by Turkish during the military operations (to retake Mosul), would be faced with a very strong response,” the official warned.
Other Iraqi officials interviewed by the MEE also said that the Iraqi government is trying to deal with these “occupation forces” through political and diplomatic channels.
Last December, Turkey deployed some 150 soldiers, equipped with heavy weapons and backed by 20 to 25 tanks, to the outskirts of Mosul, the capital of Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province which fell to Daesh in 2014.
Ankara claimed the deployment was part of a mission to train and equip Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the fight against Daesh, but Baghdad denounced the move, which came without the consent of the central government, as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.
Tensions between Iraq and Turkey have soared in recent days as Iraqi government forces and allied volunteer fighters are preparing for a large military offensive to cleanse Mosul of Daesh terrorists.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the presence of Turkish forces in Iraq complicates the liberation operation, which will be carried out by national Iraqis with no foreign troops involved. He has also warned that Turkish provocative actions could even trigger a new “regional war.”
On Thursday, however, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said, “No one has the right to object Turkey’s presence in Iraq when the country is fragmented that much.”
He said Ankara’s military presence in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region comes at the request of President of Kurdistan’s Regional Government Massoud Barzani.
The MEE further quoted an unnamed commander of Shia volunteer forces as saying that the central Iraqi government and allied fighters think Turkey has deployed its troops outside Mosul to “provide the required facilities” for Daesh terrorists “and get a foothold inside Mosul.”
In recent days, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, which comprise several prominent Shia paramilitary groups, have said they would target Turkish forces if they “insist on staying in Bashiqa or extend their presence in Mosul.”
“The presence of these troops (on Iraqi territory) is illegal and against the will of the Iraqi government, parliament and people,” Ahmad al-Assadi, the spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Units, told MEE.
“We consider them an occupation force and we will deal with them on this basis,” he said.” As long as they are seen as occupiers, we have a right to adopt all available means to deal with the occupiers.”
‘New front against Turks once Mosul is freed’
On Monday, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shia paramilitary group, stressed the importance of Iraq’s territorial integrity, saying Turkish troops on Iraqi soil will be dealt with following the recapture of Mosul from Daesh.
An Asaib Ahl al-Haq spokesman said the group would open a new front against the intruding Turkish forces to prevent them from pursuing their goals inside Iraq.
Earlier this week, the Iraqi parliament adopted a resolution asking the government to consider Turkish troops as “occupation forces.” The chamber also slammed Ankara for extending its military mandate on Iraqi soil for another year.
Baghdad has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting over the presence of Turkish troops on its territory.