Iraq’s prime minister warned Turkey on Wednesday it risked triggering a regional war by keeping troops in his territory, as the neighbouring states summoned each other’s ambassadors in a mounting diplomatic stand-off.
Turkey’s Parliament voted last week to extend its military operation in Iraq and take on “terrorist organisations” – a likely reference to Kurdish militants and Islamic State.
Iraq’s Parliament responded on Tuesday night by condemning the Turkish vote and calling for Turkey and its 2,000 troops to leave.
“We have asked the Turkish side more than once not to intervene in Iraqi matters and I fear the Turkish adventure could turn into a regional war,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned in comments broadcast on state TV on Wednesday.
“The Turkish leadership’s behaviour is not acceptable and we don’t want to get into a military confrontation with Turkey.”
The parliamentary votes have added more heat to an already highly charged and complex confrontation between regional powers, triggered by the Syrian civil war and the rise of Islamic State.
The tensions between Iraq and Turkey have risen to the surface ahead of a long-expected offensive by Iraqi and US-backed forces to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State.
Turkey has warned the attack would send a wave of refugees over its border and, potentially, on to Europe. Ankara also worries Baghdad’s Shia Muslim-led forces will destabilise the largely Sunni city close to its territory.
It is uncomfortable with the arrangement of Kurdish forces expected to take part in the Mosul offensive, with the blessing of Baghdad and Washington.
Turkey announced late on Tuesday it was calling in Iraq’s ambassador to complain about the parliamentary vote, and the foreign ministry issued a statement expressing disappointment.
“We believe this decision does not reflect the views of the majority of Iraqi people, whom Turkey has stood by for years and attempted to support with all its resources,” it said.
“We find it noteworthy that the Iraqi parliament, which has not said anything about the accepted mandate for years, puts this on the agenda as though it were a new development in times when terror is taking so many lives in Turkey and Iraq.”
On Wednesday, Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad to protest what it said were “provocative” comments made in Ankara about keeping Turkish troops in northern Iraq.
Turkey says it deployed troops to a base in northern Iraq late last year as part of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight Islamic State.
The Iraqi government says it never invited such a force and considers the Turkish troops occupiers.