‘Incursion’: Baghdad demands Turkey withdraw ‘training’ troops from northern Iraq

Turkish soldiers © Sertac Kayar
The Iraqi government has demanded that Ankara withdraw the more than 100 Turkish forces that entered Iraq with tanks and artillery for alleged “training” of troops near Islamic State-occupied Mosul. Baghdad stressed the unsanctioned move was a breach of its sovereignty.

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The Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement early on Saturday that the Turkish troops were acting in violation of the country’s sovereignty and demanded the forces withdraw immediately. “Around one regiment armoured with tanks and artillery” has entered the northern Nineveh area, according to the statement from the Iraqi Prime Minister’s media office.

“The Iraqi authorities call on Turkey to respect good neighbourly relations and to withdraw immediately from the Iraqi territory,” the statement said, stressing that the Turkish troops entered “without the request or authorization from the Iraqi federal authorities,” which is a “serious breach of Iraqi sovereignty.”

The foreign ministry called Turkey’s move “an incursion,” Reuters reported.

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According to the agency’s source, the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition was aware of the Turkey's move.

Turkish soldiers have reached the Mosul Bashiqa region. They are there as part of routine training exercises. One battalion has crossed into the region,” the source told Reuters without revealing the exact number of troops.

He added that the Turkish forces are “training Iraqi troops.”

However, according to two US defense officials quoted by Reuters, Turkey’s deployment is not part of the efforts of the US-led coalition battling Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

On Friday, 130 Turkish soldiers equipped with heavy weapons were deployed at a military base on the outskirts of the city of Mosul, which is currently held by IS, according to the Daily Sabah newspaper.

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According to Cumhuriyet newspaper, the number of the deployed Turkish troops amounts to at least 150.

The town of Bashiqa is located about 10 kilometers northeast of Mosul.

© Google Maps

Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, was seized by Islamic State in June 2014 and has been fully governed by militants ever since. Moreover, the extremist group captured large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition that were stored in the city.

In the collapse of Mosul, we lost a lot of weapons,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in an interview with Iraqiya state TV in June. “We lost 2,300 Humvees in Mosul alone,” he added.

READ MORE: Mosul blame game: Iraqi ex-PM Maliki accused in fall of key city to ISIS

The Turkish intrusion into Iraq comes shortly after Ankara’s motives in the war on Islamic State have been questioned by Moscow, Tehran, as well as by Baghdad.

The Russian government has been particularly vocal in pointing the finger at the illegal oil trade between IS terrorists and the Turks. Moscow-Ankara relations deteriorated after a Turkish F-16 jet downed a Russian Su-24 bomber on the Syrian-Turkish border for an alleged airspace violation on November 24, while the Russian jet was returning from an anti-terrorist mission. In the days after, the Russian Defense Ministry presented detailed photo and video evidence showing three huge “live pipelines” made of oil trucks effortlessly crossing the Syrian border into Turkey in militant-controlled areas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described Turkey’s move as “a stab in the back by accomplices of the terrorists,” while the Defense Ministry directly tied the illegal Syrian and Iraqi oil trade – a chief lifeline for IS terrorists – to the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

READ MORE: Russia says Turkey’s Erdogan & family involved in illegal ISIS oil trade

Erdogan has dismissed the accusations as “slander” and continued to defiantly present the downing of a non-hostile jet as a rightful move aimed at defending the Turkish border. The surviving Russian pilot has insisted the crew was in full control of the course of the flight and had never entered Turkey, while adding they had never received any visual or radio warning from the F-16. One Russian pilot, the commander of the jet, was killed by Turkmen rebel fire while parachuting from the plane, and one Russian Marine was killed during the search and recovery operation.

Meanwhile, as the US has stepped in for Turkey, supporting its refutation of Russia’s IS oil claims, other powers have come forward to back Moscow’s charges concerning Ankara’s trade with the terrorists. On Friday, Tehran said that it has collected photo and video evidence of IS oil entering Turkey by truck.

READ MORE: 'Great partners': Pentagon rejects Russian evidence of Turkey aiding ISIS

“If the government of Turkey is not informed of Daesh [derogatory term for IS] oil trade in the country, we are ready to put the information at its disposal,” Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Expediency Council Secretary, Mohsen Rezaie, as saying. The official added that they are also ready to present the proof to the public.

While officially Baghdad is now considering whether there is enough evidence of Turkey’s involvement in oil trade with IS to file a formal protest at the UN Security Council, an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, Naseer Nuri, told Sputnik on Wednesday that “general information about the smuggling of Iraqi oil by trucks to certain countries, including Turkey” is already available to them, and “this oil is used to fund Daesh.”

Other Iraqi officials have openly accused Turkey of knowingly trading with the terrorists.

There is “no shadow of a doubt” that Ankara knows about the oil smuggling operations, Iraqi MP and former national security adviser Mowaffak al Rubaie told RT.

“The merchants, the businessmen [are buying oil] in the black market in Turkey under the noses – under the auspices if you like – of the Turkish intelligence agency and the Turkish security apparatus… There are security officers who are sympathizing with ISIS in Turkey. They are allowing them to go from Istanbul to the borders and infiltrate ... Syria and Iraq,” he said.

“Money and dollars generated by selling Iraqi and Syrian oil on the Turkish black market is like the oxygen supply to ISIS and it’s operation,” Rubaie added. “Once you cut the oxygen then ISIS will suffocate.”

READ MORE: ‘Oxygen for jihadists’: ISIS-smuggled oil flows through Turkey to intl markets – Iraqi MP