The Arab League has called a Turkish military deployment in northern Iraq an 'assault' on Baghdad's sovereignty. Turkey's plans to redeploy the troops to Iraqi Kurdistan are not enough, Iraq's foreign minister has said.
The Arab League on Thursday accused Turkey of violating international law and Iraq's sovereignty over a military deployment earlier this month that has raised tensions between Baghdad and Ankara.
"The Turkish incursion into Iraq constitutes a glaring infringement of rules of international law and breaches Iraq's sovereignty," the head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Araby, told a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo. "Turkey has to withdraw its troops immediately from Iraq."
A statement from the Arab foreign ministers said the Turkish deployment "is an assault on Iraqi sovereignty and a threat to Arab national security."
Turkey has had a few hundred troops based near "Islamic State"-controlled Mosul in the Nineveh province since last year as part of what it said was an international training mission.
However, a diplomatic row erupted earlier this month when Ankara announced it had increased the number of troops to around 1,000 for what it said was force protection. It also sent tanks. Last week, an IS assault on the training camp in Bashiqa left several Turkish soldiers wounded.
In response to protests from the government in Baghdad and a call from US President Barack Obama to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, some of the forces were "reorganized" in a redeployment in the autonomous Kurdistan region, with which Turkey has good relations and where it has had a small base since the 1990s.
In Cairo, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said a redeployment was not enough and demanded that all Turkish troops leave Iraqi territory.
"They (the troops) would be relocated from one Iraqi area to another Iraqi area. Sovereignty is sovereignty, and the territories are one," he said.
Baghdad's opposition to the Turkish presence has much to do with the internal politics of Iraq and Turkey's intentions, real or perceived. Other countries, ranging from Germany to the United States, have training missions in Iraq with Baghdad's approval.
Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region have long-running territorial disputes that have only been exacerbated as Kurdish forces have made significant territorial gains south of the official borders of the three northern provinces that constitute the Kurdistan region.
Baghdad is outraged Turkish troops are in Nineveh, an area controlled by the Kurds, but officially not a part of the Kurdish region.
The nearly 1,000 Turkish troops were training Kurdish peshmerga forces as well as Sunni Arab forces loyal to Atheel Nujaifi, the former governor of Nineveh, and his brother Osama, a former Iraqi vice president.
The Nujaifi brothers are rivals of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is under pressure from Shiite parties and Iran-backed militias. The brothers have also pushed for federalization in Iraq, including the creation of a Sunni Arab region along lines similar to the Kurds.
Turkey was preparing the Nujaifi forces to play a role in any future assault to rest control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, from IS. The prospect that Nujaifi's forces could have a presence on the ground alongside the Kurds in Mosul presented a challenge the central government.
cw/jm (AFP, dpa)