Turkey on Saturday denied that it has expanded its military activities in northern Iraq after it deployed troops close to an area controlled by the Islamic State group, a move which has been blasted by Baghdad as being illegal.
“The camp in Bashiqa, 30 kilometres (19 miles) northeast of Mosul, is a training facility established to support local volunteer forces’ fight against terrorism,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a televised speech, denying reports that the deployment was in preparation for a ground operation against IS.
Turkish media reported that 600 Turkish soldiers backed by 25 tanks had been sent to the Bashiqa area near the city of Mosul, the jihadist group’s main hub in Iraq.
Iraq has called on Turkey to “immediately” withdraw forces, including tanks and artillery, deployed without Baghdad’s consent.
But Davutoglu said on Saturday that the camp was not new and that training of Iraqis there had begun after a demand from the Mosul governor’s office and in coordination with the Iraqi defence ministry.
The Turkish prime minister added that more than 2,000 Iraqis had been trained at the camp for almost a year.
“We are ready to give any kind of support in line with Iraq’s national army and Iraqi police department’s demand,” the prime minister said.
Davutoglu described the military activity in the camp as a “routine rotation activity” and as “reinforcement against security risks” there, labelling any misinterpretation as a “provocation”.
“We have trained and will continue to train our Iraqi brothers in Basiqa and other camps in northern Iraq who are fighting against Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Davutoglu said the two countries’ defence ministers spoke on the phone on Saturday, adding that the Iraqi minister would visit Turkey soon and that he would visit Baghdad himself in the near future.
“Turkey does not have an eye on any country’s soil. Turkey’s fight is against terrorist organisations,” he said, referring to IS and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“The two friendly countries should be cleared from terrorist organisations in particular Daesh and the PKK,” he said, referring to Iraq and Syria.